Over at The Atlantic, Charles Mann tells the story of Japan’s 18-year old project to mine natural gas from the ice at the bottom of the Philippine Sea. While not a certainty, Japan has come far enough to launch a test that will determine if gas trapped in ice can be mined in sufficient quantities to be useful. If so, undersea natural gas could impact how the world gets energy the way that the switch from coal to oil impacted it back in the early 20th century. How big a deal is that? Well, how big a deal would it be if suddenly the world was no longer vying over Mideastern oil reserves?
Mann concisely describes the ascendance of oil over coal and its affect on geopolitics. There is a lot of skepticism about whether ice-trapped gas can ever be effectively harvested but, as Mann points out, the same kind of skepticism surrounded the mining of shale gas through the controversial practice of fracking. As a result of gas production from fracking, the price and of gas has dropped and the U.S. actually stands a chance of becoming energy self-sufficient on net which was a pipe dream only a few years ago. If viable, gas from undersea ice could transform the energy control landscape making dependent countries independent from foreign energy suppliers.
To add even more context, Mann goes through a history of the antagonism between those who predict petroleum energy will soon run dry and those who preach that we have enough for the foreseeable future. Despite the fact that history favors the latter, political fighting continues.
The title of Mann’s article is “What if we never run out of oil?” Seemingly great news if you’re not worried about environmental issues. If fossil fuel energy continues to be cheap, the incentive to switch to renewable energy sources is threatened. While renewable sources are getting cheaper, they cannot compete with fossil fuels.