Next Generation of Fossil Fuels

Next Generation of Fossil Fuels

Fracking has revolutionized the production of oil and natural gas.

Natural gas produced by fracking can last from 100 to 1,000 years, but what will come next?

What comes next lies on the ocean floor, in the form of Methane Hydrates.

And it could be coming more quickly than originally thought.

Methane hydrates are where molecules of methane gas are entrapped within an ice lattice.

They form under very low temperatures or high pressures, or a combination of the two. These conditions are found on the outer continental shelves around the world.

Map of world showing underwater topography from USCD
Map of world showing underwater topography from USCD

The areas in pink on this map of the world are the outer continental shelves. These are the areas where methane hydrates can be found.

Until recently, it has been too difficult and too costly to mine these structures and extract the natural gas contained within.

But events are moving rapidly. Those countries that lack natural gas reserves, either from traditional reservoirs or from shale, such as Japan and India, are developing methods for mining methane hydrates.

China, a country that probably has natural gas reserves, is also exploring for methane hydrates in the South China Sea.

In May 2017, China’s Xinhua News Agency celebrated the successful trial extraction of natural gas from methane hydrates in the South China Sea.

The Chinese Minister of Land and Resources Jiang Daming, said,

“The event is a breakthrough moment heralding a potential global energy revolution.”

Japan has, for the second time, successfully extracted methane hydrates, this time offshore the Shima Peninsula two weeks before China’s announcement.

Developing natural gas production from methane hydrates is especially important for Japan, as the country lacks reserves of natural gas and has been forced to import LNG to support power generation following the closure of nuclear reactors because of the Fukushima disaster.

The potential of natural gas from methane hydrates, can be determined by looking at the estimate made by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) of methane hydrates on the United States’ continental shelves, not including Alaska, then comparing those estimated reserves with the amount of natural gas used annually by the United States.

BOEM Estimates


In-place Gas Hydrate Resources

Atlantic OCS

21,702 Tcf

Gulf of Mexico OCS

21,444 Tcf

West Coast OCS

  8,192 Tcf


51,338 Tcf

Tcf = trillion cubic feet

Table from Nothng to Fear

The United States consumed 27.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in 2016.

Assuming 50% of the potential 51,338 trillion cubic feet is available, methane hydrates from the United States’ outer continental shelf, not including Alaska, could provide the United States with natural gas for nearly 1,000 years, at today’s rate of consumption.

As noted in my article four years ago, Japan has a program for producing natural gas from methane hydrates located near its coast, and predicts it will be successful by 2019.

Most people believe that Japan’s objective is highly optimistic, but it does shed light on the efforts currently underway to develop the technology for extracting natural gas from methane hydrates.

When one considers the advances that have been made in developing sea floor, i.e., subsea, equipment used for producing oil at over 6,000 feet below the surface, it seems reasonable to conclude that these advances will continue and will be applicable to the extraction of natural gas from methane hydrates.

It was only 40 years ago that we became aware that methane hydrates were widely abundant in nature. Before that, they were a laboratory phenomenon or a nuisance that blocked underwater pipes.

It’s inconceivable that the needed subsea equipment won’t be developed over the next decades to produce natural gas from methane hydrates.

The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations have declared war on methane, so they will probably try to prevent the development of this abundant source of energy, the same as they tried to restrict development of natural gas in the United States.

Methane hydrates represent another supply of fossil fuels that can benefit mankind for many years into the future.


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5 Replies to “Next Generation of Fossil Fuels”

    • Thanks for reading. Hopefully my articles will reach people beyond those who subscribe, and help them understand all the energy issues.

  1. Of course, one can also drill for coal, partially burn it underground to produce old style town gas, and use it to synthesise methane, gasoline, jet fuel etc. There would be a greater danger of subsidence than with orthodox underground mining, since there’d be no pit props, but this allows unlimited access to the coal seams of the continental shelf with no problems at all. Needless to say, I feel that this is the way for the UK to go. The infrastructure for gas and oil drilling in the North Sea would allow Britain to halt its import of fossil fuels and balance its trade deficit. Though frankly, I can’t see that fracking on land, which only takes a small amount of the underground liquid and gas, would cause many problems.

    • Thanks for your comments.
      Yes, it’s possible to partially burn coal underground and use the gas in place of natural gas.
      I agree that fracking doesn’t cause the serious problems promoted by some e\nvironmental organizations.
      The UK has multiple opportunities for energy development, but its climate act prevents it from doing so.