In the GEOMAR methodology, carbon dioxide displaces methane within the water lattice which reforms into a more stable state than was present with the methane. While this new technology is still in development, it is very promising (Traufetter, 2007). Recent advances by researchers from Japan, China, India, Canada, Australia, and the United States could result in commercial exploitation of Methane gas within the decade.
Natural gas recovery techniques have come a long way since that first primitive well in Fredonia. Now, a complex and sophisticated process brings natural gas from the field to your home. Exploration for new sources of natural gas has become a highly evolved science. Geologists study the physical structure of a potential site. The scientists can use seismology and magnetometers to develop three dimensional models of the earth using computer programs designed for that purpose. These models allow the geologists to narrow down specific areas that are most likely to contain natural gas deposits (Scheirer et al., 2007; Warwick et al., 2007).
The proof for the presence of natural gas deposits, of course, can only be found by actually drilling in these areas the geologists have designated as high potential. Despite technological advances in equipment and techniques, drilling is still very expensive and not undertaken lightly.
The next step for freshly pumped natural gas is processing. As you will recall, raw natural gas is a mixture of several gases. Raw gas is sent through a series of distilling processes that separate the various types of gases present. Contaminants such as water and solids are also removed. Other hydrocarbons that happen to be present are also removed for separate processing into other products. The outcome product is nearly pure methane.
The natural gas is now almost ready for shipment. Natural gas is typically transported in one of two forms, compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG). For pipeline shipment, gas is compressed and sent at high pressure into the pipelines. There compressor pump stations every 100 miles to maintain pressure and keep the compressed gas flowing. When the gas reaches its destination, it is typically held in huge underground storage areas. When the distributor sells the gas to you, he sends it from the storage site under pressure through a series of smaller diameter pipe to your house (Berinstein, 2001). Liquefaction of natural gas reduces its volume 600 times (Natural Gas.org, 2008). This allows LNG to be stored more readily and shipped more easily by specially constructed trucks, railway cars or ships (Mullins, 2004).
Management of Natural Gas
Managing natural gas resources in both the United States and around the world will be a challenge in coming years. Until 1980, the United States was self-sufficient in natural gas. Since then, demand has climbed and the U.S. now imports natural gas. The United States is still a major producer of natural gas. Demand has simply outstripped the available supply (National Petroleum Council, 2007). Prices have not yet increased to the point where they will make more difficult to reach deposits cost effective to retrieve.
There are a number of forces in the United States and world wide which determine when or if certain natural gas deposits are put into production. One such force is political. In the United States, several state and federal government agencies control drilling for natural gas. They can determine where drilling is done, or if it is done at all. The congress has passed a number of laws over the years controlling price and safety conditions covering all phases of natural gas recovery, processing and distribution (UCSUSA, 2005). Internationally the picture becomes even more complex. Government instability and ethnic strife can have a devastating effect on the management of natural gas resources (National Petroleum Council, 2007).
Another factor in managing natural gas is the growing concern with the environment (UCSUSA, 2005). There are areas in the United States that have been legislated as off-limits for drilling due to the sensitive environmental nature of the areas. These include areas of the Gulf of Mexico, coastal California and parts of Alaska (National Petroleum Council, 2007). The poor environmental record for the extraction of fossil fuels in the past has fostered a distrust of energy companies. The companies claim they can now drill with very minimal disturbance in sensitive areas. Past environmental disasters leave most people unconvinced of their claims.
The third factor in managing natural gas is technical. Advancing technology has allowed energy companies to drill more quickly and efficiently (National Petroleum Council, 2007) in ever more difficult conditions with fewer and fewer errors. Transportation and storage have also advanced so that leaks and other issues that have plagued fossil fuels have been greatly minimized. Tanker ships are now double hulled in many cases. Storage facilities are now set up to recapture leaked gases. Continuing research is driven by the need to increase efficiency and to substitute newer cleaner technologies for older dirtier ones. Research is going on worldwide (Meggs, 2003).
One interesting development from of Russia is the development of mini LNG plants. These plants are designed to service small, remote areas that are often well off the standard delivery routes. These plants are designed to be reliable, easy to operate and quick to bring into operation (Gollubov & Katorgin, 2008).
The Russians claim they safe and economical to run (Zhuk, 2008). Such plants would be very useful in meeting the natural gas needs for small communities around the world, including the United States.
Norway has created what may well become the model for extracting, processing and transporting natural gas in a manner that sound economically, politically and environmentally. The Norwegian Continental Shelf sites have been a test bed for new technologies that by all accounts has vastly exceeded the expectations of all concerned (Fjell, 2003). Over the past thirty years, these drilling sites have been the center for amazing advances. Operations on the NCS have topped forecast production and yet managed to steadily reduce the costs of development and operations at these facilities.
This enviable record has been accomplished while operating under the strictest environmental code in gas and oil production. These codes were formulated by the Norwegian parliament in 1971. Among the requirement set out in these codes are: appropriate care must be shown to existing industrial and environmental interests, flaring of natural gas is not acceptable practice under normal operations, and respect must be shown for special social and political needs (Fjell, 2003). These regulations required much ingenuity by the oil industry operating on the Norwegian Continental shelf. The result has been that the oil and gas operations of the NCS have lower pollutant emissions than is produced by nearly any other producing nation in the world.
A pivotal tool for accomplishing the high environmental standards present on the Norwegian Continental Shelf is the Environmental Impact Factor (EIF). The EIF was developed in cooperation between the Norwegian Pollution control authority (SFT) and the originally state-owned oil company Statoil. The EIF is a computer model which is used to quantify the potential environmental risk. It is used for identifying the best environment for establishing a new project. The EIF has proven to be so effective that the Norwegian authorities now require all operators to use it in their yearly environmental impact reports (Fjell, 2003).
These sites were test beds for new drilling technology and procedures. Drilling requires the use of slurry containing oil, water, clay, and minerals to lubricate the bit and to cool it. This slurry used to be simply dumped onto the sea bed along with the oil-based drill cuttings produced during operation. Current procedure dilutes this waste and injects back into the ground. Technological improvements have allowed the capture of carbon dioxide emissions produced during operations and injecting them into the ground. The formation that is being used for the storage of this waste is now receiving about one million tons of carbon dioxide per year. The geologic structure is monitored constantly and has shown no sign of failure. This formation is so large that it could continue to be used for waste storage for the next 600 years (Fjell, 2003).
Norway began drilling in the North Sea under a set of very strict environmental guidelines. In the past thirty years, the processes created to meet those standards have resulted in an outstanding record of safety for both the working crews and the environment they work in. All ships hauling oil and gas from these fields are now double hulled. Ships that carry natural gas are fitted with advanced equipment for recapturing escaped gas and putting it back into storage (Fjell, 2003).
Energy is now produced onshore instead of on the rigs, reducing the carbon load on the area that would otherwise have been produced by the rigs in their normal operation. Part of the success of this program is due to the Norwegian oil companies instilling a corporate culture that emphasizes efficiency…