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The abundant fossil fuel you’ve never heard of

By Jeremy Kutner| Contributor of The Christian Science Monitor/ December 3, 2008 edition

At the edges of the Alaskan permafrost, a consortium of government and oil industry scientists are preparing to drill. They aim to tap one of the largest potential energy sources ever discovered, and one that few people have ever heard of: flammable ice crystals packed with hydrocarbons, called methane gas hydrates.

The project, a joint effort between British Petroleum, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and the Department of Energy is set to begin in late 2009 or 2010 and marks the first large-scale production test of this unconventional substance. The group is nearing agreement on a drill site.

Hydrates have been hailed as a paradigm shift in how to achieve energy independence and as a massively abundant source of cleaner-burning natural gas. Others fear it represents an environmental disaster in the making. Until recently it was thought too dangerous and too costly to extract to be of use.

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