Gas from glaciers? That’s the possibility introduced yesterday by the Department of Energy as it announced success in an experiment to extract methane from hydrate formations (above) in Alaska. Methane hydrates are ice crystal-like structures that contain natural gas. The hydrates are located under the Arctic permafrost and in ocean sediments along the continental shelf. By injecting a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen into a hydrate formation on Alaska's North Slope, the department was able to produce a steady flow of natural gas last February. It was the first full field test of this method. DOE said it might be years before a full-scale operation could be launched but Alaskans are already talking about a new game-changer on the North Slope.
On the other hand, how much natural gas can we take? That’s the question that still reverberates around the industry as gas prices linger at the oil equivalent of around $10 a barrel. Storage facilities are already being strained and the prospect of a more warm weather is only making things worse. Production did decline slightly in February and the prospect of increased exports is gaining ground. But perhaps the best augury is that legendary Houston gas trader John Arnold has decided to retire . . . . at age 38! Is the game in natural gas really over?
That’s what Chesapeake Energy investors are asking themselves as they watch CEO Aubrey McClendon flounder through more explanations of how he ended up running a $200 million hedge fund out of his corporate office. Chesapeake shares took a huge plunge yesterday and analysts say things aren’t likely to get better. The company’s finances are a mess and the recovery plan is built on the assumption of $5 gas in the near future. Is Chessy ripe for a takeover? Southeastern Asset Management, its biggest shareholder, is looking at the possibility of taking over for McClendon.
Japan is now so far down that everything is looking like up. The nation prepared to take the last of its nuclear fleet offline as summer approached and energy shortages loomed. Despite all the hand-wringing, electrical consumption climbed again in April. Politicians talk about 14 percent renewable energy, but what does that mean? Europe has been at this for more than a decade and hasn’t managed to close down a single coal plant or nuclear reactor. It looks like the Japanese are going to have to suffer until alternatives start to look good again.
Finally, green energy is getting a slight push in the US as more companies join the White House’s “green button” program. White House blogger Heather Zical issued a “We Can’t Wait for Energy Efficiency” manifesto, indicating the Administration is planning more of the same for the election campaign. The Vermont Legislature backed down from a renewable mandate for its utilities, however, and Germany is experiencing problems as it discovers the true costs of subsidizing solar. But ChinaDialogue, a Chinese environmental website, introduces an intriguing new possibility. Maybe China will finance the US push for green energy with all those US dollars it has collected.