MindBullets 20 Years

Antarctica gives up the gas

And it’s super green hydrogen

Natural gas has long been touted as the obvious successor to coal and oil in the global energy mix. It’s simply cleaner and easier to transform into the most convenient fuels. Even jet fuel is made primarily from gas these days. And the fracking revolution has made gas abundant, everywhere.

On the other hand, environmentalists are anti-gas, because it’s primarily methane, and fracking can lead to soil and water pollution. Methane is also produced from rotting garbage and animal waste – biogas – and there the problem lies with harvesting it cost-effectively; but biogas is far more socially acceptable than ‘fossil fuel’ gas trapped underground.

Antarctica, fifth biggest continent on the planet, is a pristine ice-bound wilderness, with unique ecosystems. People and nations have been at pains to protect it from human interference and exploitation, and mining in Antarctica is strictly banned. But surrounding it is the Southern Ocean, and that’s where the latest green gas resources have been discovered.

Green gas is hydrogen-rich natural gas, which means that it’s the only place in the world where hydrogen can be mined, instead of manufactured. Granted, there’s still a bit of processing to be done, separating the hydrogen out of the mixture, but it’s way less polluting than steam reforming or coal gasification. And it has to be done carefully, as hydrogen readily combines with oxygen and other elements. It’s a pretty explosive substance!

Now the moral dilemma facing everyone is this: Do we leave this gas alone, even though it’s far from the Antarctic coastline, and ignore the only source of natural hydrogen known to humankind? Or do we take advantage of this green bounty to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and concede that some deep-sea drilling in the Southern Ocean is justified?

Solar power and renewable energy are great, but heavy industry and jet planes need green fuel to operate sustainably, and if we can’t mine it, we have to make it – and that has its own set of problems and trade-offs. Any exploitation of this resource will involve a minefield of international ‘co-operation’ and corporate multinational agreements. Will that prove impossible?

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

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