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Frontiers
A New Fuel From the Ocean Floor

March 1996

The bottom of the ocean may hold enough fuel to provide power to the world for several centuries. But no one will know for certain until scientists from the NSF-supported international Ocean Drilling Program figure out a way of getting the gas hydrates up to the surface.

Gas hydrates--gray crystals formed from a combination of methane gas, water and pressure--are estimated to contain twice as much carbon as all the known deposits of oil, gas and coal. The crystals are stored in the ocean crust and kept under extremely high pressure.

"Humans die in the conditions under which gas hydrates form, and gas hydrates decompose rapidly in conditions comfortable for humans," says Charles K. Paull, a member of the Ocean Drilling Program and a geologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"Their foreign environment is the main reason we know so little about them, and in fact, most geologists have never seen a sample," he told the Durham (NC) Herald-Sun.

The team of 25 scientists and 25 technicians is drilling four deep holes and seven shallow ones off the Carolina coast. When they succeed in getting a sample they will have to work quickly; the crystals will decompose within a few hours.


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