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Prelims Capsule


How Methane Hydrate can make India energy self-sufficient?

How Methane Hydrate can make India energy self-sufficient?


  • GS 1 || Geography || Indian Economic Geography || Energy Resources


  • The world is addicted to hydrocarbons, and it’s easy to see why – cheap, plentiful, and easy to mine, they represent an abundant energy source to fuel industrial development the world over.
  • The side-effects, however, are potentially devastating – burning fossil fuels emits the CO2 linked to global warming.
  • And as reserves of oil, coal, and gas become tougher to access, governments are looking ever harder for alternatives, not just to produce energy, but to help achieve the holy grail of all sovereign states – energy independence.
  • Some have discovered a potential savior (Shale gas, Gas/Methane hydrates), locked away under deep ocean beds and vast swathes of permafrost. The problem is it’s a hydrocarbon, but quite unlike any other, we know.

Why are Gas Hydrates?

  • Gas hydrates are a crystalline form of methane and water and exist in shallow sediments of outer continental margins. They are envisaged as a viable major energy resource for the future.
  • A methane hydrate is a crystalline solid that consists of a methane molecule surrounded by a cage of interlocking water molecules.

  • Methane hydrate is an “ice” that only occurs naturally in subsurface deposits where temperature and pressure conditions are favorable for its formation.

Availability in India

  • Promising sites of gas hydrates have been identified and surveyed in the Krishna‐Godavari (KG) and the Mahanadi basins.
    • A study found the most methanogenic diversity in the KG basin, which is one of the main reasons why it is the most abundant source of biogenic methane in comparison to the Andaman and Mahanadi basins.
  • Gas hydrate resources in India are estimated to be 1,894 trillion cubic metres (tcm), with deposits located in the Eastern, Western, and Andaman offshore areas.
  • Known as flammable ice, methane hydrates are molecules of gas contained in an ice matrix found in permafrost regions of the arctic and on the seafloor at continental margins below 500 meters of depth.

Global Reserves

  • The Arctic is one of the most important regions worldwide. It is believed that methane occurs there both in the form of gas hydrate in the sea and as free gas trapped in the deep-frozen permafrost.

  • Methane deposits in permafrost and hydrates are considered to be very sensitive in the expansive shallow-shelf regions because with the relatively low pressures it would only take a small temperature change to release large amounts of methane.
  • The US, Canada, and Japan have all ploughed millions of dollars into research and have carried out a number of test projects, while South Korea, India, and China are also looking at developing their reserves.
  • The US launched a national research and development programme as far back as 1982 and by 1995 had completed its assessment of gas hydrate resources. It has since instigated pilot projects in the Blake Ridge area off the coast of South Carolina, on the Alaska North Slope, and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, with five projects still running.

Challenges Associated

  • Extraction of Gas hydrates is a big Challenge-Extraction is done via:
    • Depressurization :Drilling of the hole into the layer of hydrate and reducing the pressure beneath. This technique is implemented for hydrates only in polar regions beneath the permafrost.
    • Thermal stimulation :via steam injection, hot brine solution, etc. that raises the temperature of the local reservoir outside the hydrate region to cause the dissociation of the hydrate, thus releasing free gas which can be collected.
    • However, no country in the world has so far developed the technology to produce gas hydrates commercially and economically.
  • Other Challenges- Quite apart from reaching them at the bottom of deep ocean shelves, not to mention operating at low temperatures and extremely high pressure, there is the potentially serious issue of destabilizing the seabed, which can lead to submarine landslides.
    • These technical challenges are the reason why, as yet, there is no commercial-scale production of methane hydrate anywhere in the world. But several countries like Japan are getting closer.
  • Methane escape is a big problem- A greater potential threat is methane escape. Extracting the gas from a localized area of hydrates does not present too many difficulties, but preventing the breakdown of hydrates and subsequent release of methane in surrounding structures is more difficult.
    • And escaping methane has serious consequences for global warming – some studies suggest the gas is 30 times more damaging than CO2.
  • Methane hydrates and global warming
    • Considering that methane hydrates only form under very specific conditions, it is conceivable that global warming, which includes warming of the oceans, could affect the stability of gas hydrates.
    • Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, around 20 times more effective per molecule than carbon dioxide. An increased release from the ocean into the atmosphere could further intensify the greenhouse effect. Investigations of methane hydrates’ stability in dependence of temperature fluctuations, as well as of methane behaviour after it is released, are therefore urgently needed.

Significance/Importance of Methane Hydrates as a fuel

  • Clean and economical fuelMethane is a clean and cost-effective fuel. One cubic metre of methane hydrate is estimated to contain 160-180 cubic metres of methane.
    • Using methane from gas hydrate as an energy resource would be, compared to other hydrocarbons, relatively climate-friendly as combustion of methane is twice as efficient as burning coal.
  • If tapped it will outnumber all other conventional gas resources-The amount of gas in the world’s gas hydrate accumulations is estimated to far outnumber all known conventional gas resources.
    • Even the most conservative estimate of methane present in methane hydrates in the KG Basin is twice that of all available fossil fuel reserves worldwide.
    • According to some surveys, gas hydrate deposits along ocean margins are estimated to exceed known petroleum reserves by about a factor of three.
  • Energy and Fuel securityHuge energy potential of gas hydrates can be used as a viable major energy resource of the future.
    • If India produces only 10% of this gigantic treasure, it can meet India’s overwhelming energy requirement for about 100 years.
    • Gas Hydrates development can enhance energy security and the availability of energy fuels, lower natural gas prices, offer a cleaner environmental footprint than some other fossil fuels, and enable local economic development.
  • Reduction in Oil imports-India will not have to depend on other countries for energy resources and would be able to save billions of hard-earned rupees.
    • Gas Hydrates have the potential to meet the rising energy demands of a fast-growing economy like India. It will also aid in the Decrease in oil and gas imports and improve the balance of payments.
    • India’s fragile energy security is under severe pressure from its rising dependence on imported oil, regulatory uncertainty, international monopolies, and opaque natural gas pricing policies.
  • It will save much more revenue to invest in infrastructure or other programs for social benefit.
  • Push to Indigenous production of goods – India’s popular initiatives like Make in India will be requiring a cheaper and constant supply of electricity for industrial promotion which gas hydrate sources may fulfill.
  • Employment generation- The economic impacts of Gas hydrates (Methane hydrates) energy are extensive. Development will bring hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to our nation’s economy.
  • Gas hydrates are also important for seafloor stabilitystudies, because “melting” gas hydrate may cause seafloor “landslides.


  • India’s energy consumption is expected to grow 4.5 percent every year for the next 25 years. Due to high International Crude Oil Prices, the Current Account Deficit (CAD) inflated because of the higher cost of oil import, raising concerns about long-term economic stability in India, highlighting the importance of energy security.
  • Major changes are taking place in the global energy sector, ranging from increased electrification to the expansion of renewable energy, as well as changes in oil production and the globalization of natural gas markets. To deal with these transformations in the energy sector, India must increase its capacity for research and skill development.
  • The use of domestic gas hydrates can help India meet its growing energy demands while also reducing reliance on costly energy imports.
  • Capturing the methane and burning it suddenly looks like a rather good idea. Maybe this particular simplest hydrocarbon addiction could prove beneficial for us all.
  • If the technology for its safe exploitation is developed, it will facilitate environmental protection by reducing methane leakage/escape from the continental shelf by extracting it beforehand.

Mains model Question

  • According to reports, India has untapped reserves of gas hydrates enough to meet the country’s needs for the next quarter-century. However, it does not appear that utilizing the resources is high on the agenda. Examine the availability and issues involved critically.