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Tibet: huge methane reservoir discovered under ice

October 18, 2009

AsiaNews
October 15, 2009

It could provide energy independence for China.
But the methane hydrates, also known as "ice that
burns", are also one of the most polluting agents in the world.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In the tundra of
Tibet "the secret to energy independence for
China is hidden, opening up the road to
environmentally sustainable development without
oil." This was declared yesterday a
representative of the Chinese Ministry for Land
and Resources, who explained: "Under the ice of
Tibet and Qinghai our geologists have found the
largest underground reservoir of methane
hydrates”. The fuel, known as "ice that burns" is
characteristic of the Chinese underground, in
shape and thickness, it looks like solidified
water. But if it is burned, it releases clean
energy; methane is indeed a clean fuel that emits
carbon dioxide and water. As a natural gas it can
be transported through pipes, by ships or trucks.

According to the ministry, this is the most
important geological discovery to have been made
in China since 1959, when they found some oil
deposits. The energy value of the estimated new
supply of "ice that burns" is equivalent to 255.5
billion barrels of crude oil; approximately, 200
times the domestic production of oil. Immediately
after the announcement, the Shanghai market
witnessed the value of the energy company shares sky rocket.

But some scientists warn of the danger connected
to hydrates: If released into the air, in fact,
they cause pollution 25 times that of carbon
dioxide. Currently, the reserve is protected by
the natural ice that covers it, but the gradual
melting of the perennial ice caps is likely to
release its destructive power. Professor Qingbai
Wu, deputy director of the state laboratory of
Lanzhou, calls it "the most serious concern for
the global climate. When most people talk about
greenhouse gas emissions from China, they are
talking about cars and factories ... but methane
hydrates, if they do exist in Tibet in a huge
quantity, actually pose the biggest threat."
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