Pakistan is known to have significant natural gas deposits trapped in the form of methane hydrates in sedimentary rocks off the coast of Baluchistan. Tragic as yesterday's earthquake is in terms of loss of human life, it may also have triggered the release of substantial amount of gas which pushed up a new island in the Arabian sea. A team of scientists from the National Institute of Oceanography in Karachi will visit the site this week to investigate it.
In a study published online in the journal Nature Geoscience
and reported recently by New York Times
, European researchers said that an underwater quake off Pakistan nearly 70 years ago likely fractured seafloor sediments and created pathways for the release of methane gas which still continues to bubble up from below. The researchers say the phenomenon may be widespread enough that climate scientists should take it into account when estimating the amounts of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
Dr. David Fischer, the lead author of the study, told New York Times: “The quake broke open gas-hydrate sediments and the free gas underneath migrated to the surface.” The hydrates themselves did not dissolve. “They remain there,” he said.
While the existence of offshore methane hydrate deposits has long been known in many parts of the world, it's only recently that Japan demonstrated
that natural gas can be produced commercially from such deposits.
Methane hydrate is also known by other names such as methane clathrate, hydromethane or methane ice. This last name relates to the fact that it is an ice-like crystalline substance, basically, frozen methane. Methane hydrate is a naturally occurring phenomenon that can be found in soft sediments in Arctic environments. It can be extensively found in the uppermost few hundred meters of slope and rise sediments in continental margins where the right temperature and pressure conditions are present.
Methane hydrates have been discovered on the Atlantic and Pacific margins of both North and South America, especially at equatorial latitudes. They are also found off the coast of Canada, Alaska, off the West coast of Norway, the Black Sea and off the coast of Pakistan. Smaller fields have been discovered off the coast of New Zealand and Antarctica, according to Oceaflores
One cubic meter of hydrate contains 164 cubic meters of gas, once the gas is released, it expands to more than 150 times the original volume. As a consequence, methane hydrate reserves are thought to contain more than twice as much fuel energy as all currently known fossil fuel reserves.
Methane hydrate is not yet ready for prime time as a substantial source of energy. However, it could become commercially viable in the future for Pakistan if the Japanese succeed in their efforts. It could be another significant energy revolution similar to the shale revolution now unfolding in America. Pakistan is blessed with both-shale
and methane hydrate-in huge quantities enough to fuel the national economy for a long time.
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