I haven’t had a chance this weekend to talk with my dad, a retired petrochemical engineer. I remember him speaking about methane crystallization as a problem in deep-sea oil drilling years ago, and years later, we see it in action!
For those who have been following the oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the huge containment funnel that was lowered in hopes of capturing the rising oil was clogged with ice crystals, formed when the frigid ocean water interacted with the oil, forming a bizarre polymer, literally, a combination of methane and water.
It’s methane clathrate. One liter of it contains 168 liters of methane gas when thawed out and allowed to vaporize, how cool is that!
Essentially, think of the funnel as a bad case of kidney stones, blocking the outlet pipe.
If you look beyond the environmental the sky is falling news copy, think of our energy needs, and the incredible volume of clean natural gas down there, happy fuel for electrical power gas turbines, and home heating.
Deep sea oil exploration, and extraction of the oil down there, is a newly evolving technology. Economies of scale, and fear of the unknown, have kept us from going down there. Many would cry foul, proclaiming the mantras of environmental fear. I don’t blame them, looking at the information available to the layman. Over the last 25 years, we’ve been saddled with old technologies, as political campaigns have kept us from going forward. Just look at nuclear energy as a case in point.
There is a huge amount of money being made on fear alone, under the guise of environmentalism. I’ll let you in on a litttle secret. The engineers working on energy aren’t as centered on the almighty dollar as you’ve been taught. If you can find an engineer that doesn’t really care about the environment, I’ll trade you for Al Gore. Engineers want nothing more than to make things work properly, soundly, and in tune with the environment. Yet the TV producers keep touting architects as the sages of wisdom, as they loft horribly inefficient photovoltaic cells atop buildings. Let’s throw in some of those goofy pinwheels (wind turbines) for emotional effect.
Fact is, we need everything that’s leaking from that drilling. All of the product leaking has value, providing for everyone, be it as chemicals or energy. I wonder how different things would be today if more research had been allowed over the last three decades. We have too many bubbleheads watching MTV, and need more propellerheads watching a slide rule.
We are suffering from the precipitous decline in science and engineering that has unfolded over the last 25 years. Have a look at what was accomplished from 1940-1970, and look for those venerable pocket protectors. In those years, they were an honorable thing. Today, all I see are saggy pants and three inches of underwear strolling down the street.