Methane hydrates represent the largest source of hydrocarbons in the earth’s crust.
Methane clathrate (CH4•5.75H2O), also called methane hydrate, hydromethane, methane ice, fire ice, natural gas hydrate, or gas hydrate is a solid clathrate compound (more specifically, a clathrate hydrate) in which a large amount of methane is trapped within a crystal structure of water, forming a solid similar to ice. Originally thought to occur only in the outer regions of the Solar System where temperatures are low and water ice is common, significant deposits of methane clathrate have been found under sediments on the ocean floors of Earth.
The worldwide amounts of carbon bound in gas hydrates is conservatively estimated to total twice the amount of carbon to be found in all known fossil fuels on Earth.
While production of usable gas from methane hydrates is still some way away, DoE reports on successful tests:
By injecting a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen into a methane hydrate formation (pdf link) on Alaska’s North Slope, the DOE partnering with ConocoPhillips and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp was able to produce a steady flow of natural gas in the first field test of the new method. The test was done from mid-February to about mid-April this year. …..
While everyone is suggesting that methane hydrate production is some time in the future, we might note that a partner is from Japan, a country that has been buying via imports virtually all its energy and fuel inputs. A glance at the map of potential reserves shows that Japan may well pour on the intellectual and financial power to get results much quicker than many expect.
On the other hand, for North Americans natural gas is ratcheting down to dirt cheap, with more resources with the new horizontal drilling and reserve fracturing available on land and significant amounts of natural gas at sea in already developed areas. ..
It would seem that with shale gas added to natural gas resources and the potential for methane hydrates, that we will have gas available for a thousand years.