Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Did Pakistan Quake Release Methane Hydrate Gas to Form Island?

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.

Related Links:

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US Census Bureau's International Stats  

Pakistan's Vast Shale Gas Reserves

US AID Overview of Pakistan's Power Sector 

US Can Help Pakistan Overcome Energy Crisis

Abundant and Cheap Coal Electricity

US Dept of Energy Report on Shale Gas

Pakistan's Twin Energy Crises

Pakistan's Electricity Crisis

Pakistan's Gas Pipeline and Distribution Network

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10 comments:

Shamshad said...

That is what one of the scientist on NPR said. Ice --> Methane --> Pushed the land up.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=225842908

Anonymous said...

Pakistani officials were investigating a small island that appeared off the coast of Pakistan after the quake, apparently the result of earth and mud pushed to the surface by the quake.

The head of the Geological Survey of Pakistan confirmed that the mass was created by the quake and said scientists were trying to determine how it happened. Zahid Rafi said such masses are sometimes created by the movement of gases locked in the earth under the sea, pushing mud and earth up to the surface in something akin to a mud volcano.

"When such a strong earthquake builds pressure, there is the likelihood of such islands emerging," he said. "That big shock beneath the earth causes a lot of disturbance."

To get a better idea of what the island is made of and how permanent it is, scientists will have to get samples of the material to see if it's mostly soft mud or rocks and harder material. He said these types of islands can remain for a long time or eventually subside back into the ocean, depending on their makeup.

A Pakistani Navy team reached the island by midday Wednesday, navy geologist Mohammed Danish told the country's Geo Television. He said the mass was about 60 feet (18 meters) high, 100 feet (30 meters) wide and 250 feet (76 meters) long, making it a little wider than a tennis court and slightly shorter than a football field.

"There are stones and mud," he said, warning residents not to try to visit the island. "Gasses are still emitting."

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=225965704

Riaz Haq said...

It turns out that buried in the sediment offshore from Pakistan, there's a type of ice that's made mostly of methane. And it turns out that during earthquakes, this methane can sometimes be released from its ice form and turn into a gas.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=225842908

Mayraj said...

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2431913/Massive-Pakistani-earthquake-pushes-brand-new-18-metre-high-island-sea.html?ico=ushome^editors_choice_six_of_the_best

The world's freshest real estate: Massive Pakistani earthquake heaves a brand new 18 meter high island above the waves
• The mountain-like island appeared 600m off Pakistan's Gwadar coast
• The earthquake triggered a movement of gases in the earth under the sea
• This pushed earth up to the surface in something akin to a 'mud volcano'
• Such land masses have appeared after quakes in Pakistan in 1999 and 2010

Riaz Haq said...

From BBC:

Hydrates, or clathrates, are a frozen mixture of water and gas, primarily methane

The methane molecules reside inside a water molecule lattice
The methane will ignite in ice form - hence the "fire ice" moniker

Clathrates tend to form under frigid temperatures and high pressures

They are found in ocean sediments and under the permafrost on land

Vast deposits are thought to exist, rivalling known reserves of traditional fossil fuels

Japan says it has successfully extracted natural gas from frozen methane hydrate off its central coast, in a world first.

Methane hydrates, or clathrates, are a type of frozen "cage" of molecules of methane and water.

The gas field is about 50km away from Japan's main island, in the Nankai Trough.

Researchers say it could provide an alternative energy source for Japan which imports all its energy needs.

Other countries including Canada, the US and China have been looking into ways of exploiting methane hydrate deposits as well.

Pilot experiments in recent years, using methane hydrates found under land ice, have shown that methane can be extracted from the deposits.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21752441

Riaz Haq said...

The districts of Awaran and Khuzdar where the earthquake hit are the center of Baloch insurgency in Pakistan, according to Washington Post :
Thousands of Pakistanis ran into the streets praying for their lives Tuesday as a powerful earthquake rocked a remote area in the southwest, killing at least 39 people and possibly creating a small island off the coast.

The Pakistani military said it was rushing troops and helicopters to Baluchistan province’s Awaran district, where the quake was centered, and the nearby area of Khuzdar. Local officials said they were sending doctors, food and 1,000 tents for people who had nowhere to sleep as strong aftershocks continued to shake the region.
--------
The area where the quake struck is at the center of an insurgency that Baluch separatists have been waging against the Pakistani government for years. The separatists regularly attack Pakistani troops and symbols of the state, such as infrastructure projects.

A Pakistani military official speaking on customary condition of anonymity said security officials were fired on while escorting doctors to Awaran. No one was wounded.

The quake was felt as far as New Delhi, the Indian capital, some 1,200 kilometers (about 740 miles) away, but no damage or injuries were immediately reported there.

The quake also jolted Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, roughly 250 kilometers (155 miles) from the epicenter. People in the city’s tall office buildings rushed into the streets, and Pakistani television showed lights swaying as the earth shook.

“My table and computer started shaking. I thought I was feeling dizziness but soon realized they were tremors,” Karachi resident Mohammad Taimur said.

In Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, cellphone vendor Matiullah Khan said he was in his shop with a customer when the cabinet and shelves started to shake.

“I along with customers rushed out to the main street. ... Thousands of people were standing, many in fear and reciting Quranic verses,” he said.

Baluchistan and neighboring Iran are prone to earthquakes. A magnitude-7.8 quake centered just across the border in Iran killed at least 35 people in Pakistan last April.

___

Santana reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Adil Jawad in Karachi, and Ashok Sharma in New Delhi contributed to this report.


http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pakistani-official-magnitude-77-quake-hits-southwestern-pakistan/2013/09/24/3cd6304a-2513-11e3-9372-92606241ae9c_story.html

Riaz Haq said...

Rashid Tabrez, the director-general of the Karachi-based National Institute of Oceanography, says the energy released by the seismic movements of these fault-lines activates inflammable gases in the seabed.

"The seabed near the Makran coast has vast deposits of gas hydrates, or frozen gas having a large methane content," he explained.

"These deposits lay compressed under a sediment bed that is 300m-800m thick."

"When the plates along the fault-lines move, they create heat and the expanding gas blasts through the fissures in the earth's crust, propelling the entire sea floor to the surface."

The island that popped up near Gwadar is the fourth in this region since 1945, and the third during the last 15 years, he said.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24272552

Riaz Haq said...

NBC News on relief effort after Balochistan quake:

Most of the food and shelter provided to displaced people is being provided by Jamaat ud Dawa - or Party of the Faithful - the fundraising arm of banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiyeba, whose leadership is wanted by the U.S. for sponsoring terror.

Those difficulties were underlined Thursday when rockets were fired at a government helicopter as it passed over Mushke, an area dominated by militants.

The aircraft was carrying the head of the country's National Disaster Management Authority, a Pakistani army general in charge of relief operations and other officials, The Associated Press reported.
The quake was so powerful that it caused an island to emerge off the coast of the port city of Gwadar, in the Arabian Sea....

Tuesday’s magnitude 7.7 quake struck a remote, under-developed area gripped by separatist militants and the region’s lawlessness is hampering army-led relief efforts.

http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/09/26/20702945-militants-fire-rockets-at-relief-helicopter-as-pakistan-quake-death-toll-hits-349?lite

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt of Discovery News story on Pakistan's recent quake along Chaman fault:

In the hours after the quake, a new island suddenly rose offshore in shallow seas near the town of Gwadar, about 230 miles (380 kilometers) southwest of the epicenter. Geologists with the Pakistan Navy have collected samples from the rocky pile, the Associated Press reported. From pictures and descriptions, many scientists think the mound is a mud volcano, which often erupt after strong earthquakes near the Arabian Sea. A second island has also been reported offshore of Ormara, about 170 miles (280 km) east of Gwadar, Geo News said.

"Other mud volcanoes have been triggered at this distance for similar size earthquakes," Michael Manga, a geophysicist and expert on mud volcanoes at the University of California, Berkeley, told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

Little known risk
The unexplained island may have focused unusual global attention on the earthquake, which hit in a region that frequently experiences devastating temblors. (Video: Island Appears After Pakistan Earthquake)

But despite the hazards faced by millions living near the Chaman Fault, a combination of geography and politics means the seismic zone remains little studied. The Taliban killed 10 climbers, including an American, in northern Pakistan in June.

"Its location is in an area that is very difficult to do any traditional field work," Khan told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet. "I tried twice to submit proposals to (the National Science Foundation) and I got excellent reviews, but the review panel said I was risking my life to work in that area."

But the National Academy of Sciences felt differently. With their support, Khan and his colleagues in Pakistan and at the University of Cincinnati are now studying the fault's current and past movement. This will help the researchers forecast future earthquake risk.

"This fault has had very little work and no paleoseismology," Khan said. "It is really important."

Pakistan's deadly earthquakes owe their birth to the juncture of three colliding tectonic plates: Indian, Eurasian and Arabian. The Indian and Eurasian plates grind past each other along the Chaman Fault, triggering destructive temblors.

Earthquakes along the Chaman Fault are more frequent in the north than in the south, Khan said. Similar to California's San Andreas Fault or Turkey's East Anatolian Fault, in some spots, the massive plate boundary is not a single fracture. In southern Pakistan, the Chaman Fault splits into more than one strand, weaving a braid of many smaller faults. The differences between north and south influence the number of earthquakes.

In the past 40 years, only one quake bigger than magnitude 6.0 has jiggled southern Pakistan within 125 miles (200 km) of yesterday's shaker, according to the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology in Seattle. (High & Dry: Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau)

ANALYSIS: African Groundwater Discovery May Slake Thirst
Altogether, the strike-slip Chaman Fault spans more than 500 miles (860 kilometers), crossing through Afghanistan and Pakistan. Strike-slip faults move each side of the fracture mostly parallel to each other.

In the north, near the town of Chaman where India jabs a knuckle into Pakistan, the fault has zipped along at 33 millimeters (1.3 inches) every year for the past 38,000 years, according to a study Khan's team published Sept. 12 in the journal Tectonophysics.

"That is very fast," Khan said. "That tells me there were multiple major earthquakes in the last 38,000 years.".


http://news.discovery.com/earth/rocks-fossils/what-caused-pakistan-earthquake-island-1309261.htm

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report on methane hydrates:

The world is addicted to hydrocarbons, and it's easy to see why - cheap, plentiful and easy to mine, they represent an abundant energy source to fuel industrial development the world over.

The side-effects, however, are potentially devastating; burning fossil fuels emits the CO2 linked to global warming.

And as reserves of oil, coal and gas are becoming tougher to access, governments are looking ever harder for alternatives, not just to produce energy, but to help achieve the holy grail of all sovereign states - energy independence.

Some have discovered a potential saviour, locked away under deep ocean beds and vast swathes of permafrost. The problem is it's a hydrocarbon, but unlike any other we know.

Huge reserves
Otherwise known as fire ice, methane hydrate presents as ice crystals with natural methane gas locked inside. They are formed through a combination of low temperatures and high pressure, and are found primarily on the edge of continental shelves where the seabed drops sharply away into the deep ocean floor, as the US Geological Survey map shows.

And the deposits of these compounds are enormous. "Estimates suggest that there is about the same amount of carbon in methane hydrates as there is in every other organic carbon store on the planet," says Chris Rochelle of the British Geological Survey.

In other words, there is more energy in methane hydrates than in all the world's oil, coal and gas put together.

By lowering the pressure or raising the temperature, the hydrate simply breaks down into water and methane - a lot of methane.

One cubic metre of the compound releases about 160 cubic metres of gas, making it a highly energy-intensive fuel. This, together with abundant reserves and the relatively simple process of releasing the methane, means a number of governments are getting increasingly excited about this massive potential source of energy.

Technical challenges
The problem, however, is accessing the hydrates.

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Quite apart from reaching them at the bottom of deep ocean shelves, not to mention operating at low temperatures and extremely high pressure, there is the potentially serious issue of destabilising the seabed, which can lead to submarine landslides.

A greater potential threat is methane escape. Extracting the gas from a localised area of hydrates does not present too many difficulties, but preventing the breakdown of hydrates and subsequent release of methane in surrounding structures is more difficult.

And escaping methane has serious consequences for global warming - recent studies suggest the gas is 30 times more damaging than CO2.

These technical challenges are the reason why, as yet, there is no commercial-scale production of methane hydrate anywhere in the world. But a number of countries are getting close.

The US, Canada and Japan have all ploughed millions of dollars into research and have carried out a number of test projects, while South Korea, India and China are also looking at developing their reserves.

The US launched a national research and development programme as far back as 1982, and by 1995 had completed its assessment of gas hydrate resources. It has since instigated pilot projects in the Blake Ridge area off the coast of South Carolina, on the Alaska North Slope and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, with five projects still running.....



http://www.bbc.com/news/business-27021610