Children Living Near Lake Kivu Climate Funding

Stand-out Solutions to Climate Change Problems

Lake Kivu 3D Stallite image by Christoph Hormann
Lake Kivu 3D Image (c Christoph Hormann)

Hydragas: Is it a New Economy Solution for Climate Change?

Hydragas is targeting recognition as a real solution provider for climate change. See here if what we say about Hydragas Energy’s solution to prevent climate change is worthy. Below is the challenge link to Bloomberg’s New Economy Web-site. So, should we be in Beijing this November to present our story? Read below for the qualifying Q&A.

The Bloomberg New Economy Forum

We are living at a pivotal moment in history. Economic power is shifting dramatically from the West to new economies. New markets and new leaders are exercising unprecedented influence over the course of economic change on the global scale. While complex challenges persist, new opportunities are presenting themselves each day. It will take a new community of leaders thinking, innovating and working together to create the thriving, inclusive global economy of the future.

A new community for the new economy

A world in transition presents unprecedented challenges such as climate change. Luckily, the solutions are out there. We want to know about them, scale them, and make them the new normal. Seven solutions will be presented at the New Economy Forum in Beijing this November … one could be yours.

The Problem

Who is affected by this problem?

Millions of people, the worst affected, may die suddenly in one catastrophic incident. They could be swallowed by a dense, asphyxiating, toxic cloud. It would blanket their homes like a fast-moving morning fog.

Unless we all do the right thing, this forecast vent can occur on any single day in the next 68 years. Without the right intervention it would inflict a cruel, swift and brutal outcome from a single, major climate change event.

Many of the four million people living in the zone will number among the unsuspecting victims. The zone is the Western Rift Valley, around Lake Kivu in Africa. The victims will be anyone, young or old, mostly the rural poor. Timing of this event depends on the trigger. It may even delay until it’s only the children or grandchildren of those living there today. But most victims will die on a single fateful day.

Survivors are those that will run uphill within moments to escape the in-rushing cloud. To give them a chance, warning sirens should sound off in every community. But there are none there yet.

The next affected would be the adjacent population, people outside the cloud’s reach. They live nearby the valley, but fatefully out of the kill-zone on the day. Millions more live in this second zone, the most affected of the survivors. But at the time of the incident, they are just helpless bystanders, unable to intervene. These victims would suffer trauma, loss of family, disruption and disease, starvation and confusion.

How many are affected by the problem?

Casualty numbers will vary. The most lives will be saved by using an escape plan and warning siren. People must learn to climb to high ground to escape, hundreds of metres above the lake. It is like disaster planning for a coastal tsunami. We expect millions may die, most in minutes, overcome by the speed and toxicity of the cloud. Survival depends on how high up the hills they live, how fast and high they flee. It may even depend on the wind direction that day.

Classic Photo of Mt Nyiragongo from Lake Kivu
Mt Nyiragongo above Goma over lake Kivu

Cities closest to the water, including Goma with its million residents on flat lava plains, would have the most difficulty escaping. Countless dead will be strewn in the streets within minutes. One can visualize these streets looking like Pompeii or the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. Try to imagine a disaster with four or five times the million casualties of Rwanda’s genocide. But imagine that in one day, not the 100 days of mid-1994.

The entire valley could remain uninhabitable for a long time. This can be weeks or perhaps months. A strong wind only can disperse the cloud, as the valley is ringed by hills except to the south. No entry should be allowed into the affected zone, not without gas testing. Controlling the situation requires an enormous civil defense effort. Only properly equipped rescuers should enter the zone with such risk of death or disease.

Eventually the world will feel the impact, beyond the news cycle of the death toll. Climate change effects will occur around the globe from a one-day release of 2-3 gigatons of carbon.

What is the problem this solution addresses? 

The problem is averting a vast, unprecedented, existential threat. Lake Kivu is an enigma. It’s a huge, deep mountain lake, dammed by live volcanoes. It has both a legacy and further potential to erupt catastrophically. The lake’s has a unique ability to contain a huge gas build-up within its 1600-foot depth. We also know that the gas will eventually erupt, as a dense and toxic cloud. This limnic eruption can create a vast humanitarian disaster and climate change incident.

The lake is layered with five thick strata of varying density water. Each layer’s density increases with minerals dissolved from lava. These strata trap gas. The density gradients separate them, sealing in the gas. The top layer is oxygen-rich, home to fish and algae. But the deeper 90% supports only anoxic life forms. In there are micro-organisms that convert sinking dead biomass into gases.

After a millennium of calm, a clear trend is that gases will saturate the lake by 2088. But before these next 69 years pass, a seismic or volcanic event can preemptively trigger an eruption. Those events can supply the required burst of energy.

Risk levels of eruption risk levels increase faster every year, until 2088. Our solution must be to prevent an eruption. From 2007-2010 the world’s leading experts studied the problem and alternate solutions. They debated the developing outcomes for 3 years. Then they wrote up the rules. It was more complex problem than they first imagined.

Why have other attempts to solve this problem failed or been incomplete?

Photo of Gas Separator on the 1965 Gas Extraction Plant on Lake Kivu's Cap Rubone
UPEGAZ 1965 Gas Plant

Other attempts were made to fix the problem. At first, in 1960, the level of threat was unknown. Gas extraction was seen as a need to produce energy, not a means to prevent a disaster. Extraction started in 1965 when a Belgian company, UCB, designed and built a plant. But it was just an experimental shore-based plant, too small to make a lasting negative impact. It didn’t have the capacity to keep pace with gas formation. While the 1960s gas extraction method was an imperfect solution, it was pioneering. But it was small, inefficient and wasteful. Above all, it couldn’t resolve the lake safety issues, as the problem identification and solutions were only finalized 50 years later.

But trouble came when new investors copied and expanded the legacy engineering concept. For instance in 2008, “Kivu Power 1” started up a floating, platform-based version. However this unit struggled to perform, experiencing riser failures, with below design quality and output. It shut down in 2015.

What is the potential impact of a failing to address the problem?

In 2008 another company began to develop a 10-times larger version. But that took 7 years to build and start-up. At this scale it manifested more detectable safety and compliance problems. For instance, the design over-used gas resources, with low recovery of methane and creating a worrying disturbance of the lake strata. Even fully developed, it can only recover under 25% of the lake’s potential output. As a solution it was not doing enough for climate change and perhaps making it worse than hoped.

Above all, this plant is seriously non-compliant with the lake’s rules-of-use, compromising safety and environmental needs. After 3 years operation, monitoring data shows it was irreversibly damaging the lake’s density gradients. But compliance to all these rules are key to lake safety. Therefore the environmental authorities are weighing an order to shut it down to re-equip.

The New Economy community should embrace solutions to this problem because?

Rwanda is a New Economy country; first in the world to ban single-use plastics. Although 3rd World, it has the drive and ambition to improve its standing. For instance its economy has 15 years among world-leaders of growth. It successfully worked to protect the mountain gorillas and reverse their slide to extinction. It is also reversing deforestation, but needs an alternate form of biomass for renewable energy. While it is the most densely populated country in Africa, it is also one of the cleanest. Rating agencies show it as one of the safest and least corrupt countries globally. But the lake’s problem can before long compromise the country’s safety.

Rwanda, like its western neighbour on Lake Kivu, have an opportunity to propel their economies with renewables. For instance they can power 90% or more of their non-transport energy use with clean energy. They can switch from 45% imported oil to renewable biogas for power generation. The resource is available in the lake, where it has accumulated for 1000 years. However, the solution must include successfully extracting it and using it. The climate change problem is more completely resolved if Lake Kivu methane is fully used as renewable energy.

If left unchecked, climate change threatens Rwanda with rising temperatures and droughts. In past millennia the biggest eruption risks for Lake Kivu came with prolonged droughts. Public and private sector leaders have identified the need for this gas development, as it can have a great impact on their sustainable future. Hydragas has partnered with and explored our approach with government for many years. So we’re now ready to launch this solution, a concrete initiative to save lives, building a safer and cleaner country.

The Solution

What promising existing solution to this problem would you like to submit?

At the core of our product, the solution we will deliver is innovation. It’s the excitation that gets gas to more energetically separate out of water. For instance our exciter unit can make soda cans explode.

The complete product is now ready to implement, after 17 years of research, plant engineering and design development. For us the easier element was innovating, thus reinventing a dysfunctional legacy process to degas the lake. After that we built a pilot-project on the lake. We had to ensure it worked and assured others too. Feasibility studies followed. In this way we determined how to design, construct and operate a plant at scale. Because of this successful work program, it’s ready to achieve that promise.

However, in building full-scale underwater process plants, we work within a complex lake system. This complexity has some potentially great dangers. We must monitor for any subtle changes that occur with water flows in and out of these strata, during degassing. Our diligence test lies in running a demo plant at full-scale for proof of performance. This is our critical next step.

We’re raising $30 million of project capital to build it. Then, with this proof in hand, we can install up to 200 of these modules around the lake. They will be grouped with ten to a control platform, with each platform piping gas ashore. Some are up to 15 miles from onshore power plants or the gas network. We’ll build these facilities to use or distribute the gas. The need is more than to prevent eruptions, it’s for a novel source of clean energy too. Our planned investment for full capacity is $3.5 billion.

How does your solution enable the private sector to uniquely contribute?

The remaining open piece of our solution puzzle is the private sector investment. The combination of Africa, innovation and the lake’s perceived risk will exclude >99% of the investment community from considering this investment. The combination of great social and humanitarian impact, positive environmental impact and high double-digit investment returns provides a triple bottom line. We trust it can entice the remaining <1% of the investing community to consider investment. We are looking to engage them.

Nyhavn Area of Copenhagen - Site of 2008 & 2009 Conferences
Nyhavn Area of Copenhagen – Site of 2008 & 2009 Conferences

Our Expert Group wrote the rules-of-use of the Lake Kivu resource in a 30-page book that sets out the principles to apply. The first principle is public safety. It sets the priority in the face of the looming existential threat to millions. The second principle is environmental preservation. It needs to keep the lake as a viable ecosystem for the next 50 years of gas harvest and for the centuries that follow. The third principle is societal benefit. We need to ensure that existing usage of the lake continues, such as lake transport and the fish harvest. Producing clean energy must contribute to cheaper energy and increasing employment.

Only after these first three will come the benefit to developers and investors. But the project benefits will be economically sound, more rewarding than most global investors’ yields from resource industries. Perhaps it may be too niche for big oil and gas players. But with a lifetime revenue potential of $100 billion, and high free cash flows, there is enough to cater for investor returns and social obligations.

How does your solution deliberately create and sustain societal good?

The rules-of-use of Lake Kivu mandate societal good. We must achieve them through adopting the three principles. But societal good goes deeper, it must be more meaningful and explicit. Hydragas will adopt and sustainably engineer the best life-saving measures as our primary goal. We must deliver them for the safety of millions in the community.

We have have observed a worrying example of the outcomes of showing indifference to the regulations. The cost could one day be measured in millions of lives not just millions of dollars. Hydragas will therefore act in the best way we can, to commit and comply fully to the rules.

But to date there have been cases where the best has not been done. An earlier developer used political and legal means to avoid complying with mandatory requirements in the latest Management Prescriptions. They began designing their facility based on an unofficially released early draft of the regulations. For instance, the early 2008 draft issue was not explicit on extraction method. The draft was less stringent on key requirements and their design constraints. The key one in the 2009 update was the banning of use of the legacy extraction method.

Designing Solutions to Regulate for Safety

Therefore, during detailed design they were obliged to make changes to achieve compliance with this 2009 version. Instead they threatened to sue for costs and damages to avoid complying. They didn’t change anything despite having the time in a slow moving project.

Since then some concerning trends were shown in monitoring results. By then they filed suit against government for a “change in law”. In the same time frame, the environmental authority is weighing a shutdown order for them based on the monitoring results.

As Lake Kivu developers Hydragas fully subscribes to the principles and requirements in the Management Prescriptions. We were co-authors of the document. Our innovation and design are key enablers for compliance to our mandate as developers. We need the support of our investors to commit to societal good, including our role in preventing climate change. While Africa’s legacy of oil & resources investment hardly sets us a good example, we are setting out to make the environment safer for us and for the societal good.


Climate Funding

Management Prescriptions: the “how-to” of Lake Kivu

Imagine now, for a moment, that you go to a technical conference. First of its kind. Almost 150 people are there. Outside the windows we can see Lake Kivu. It’s all calm, pristine. Its blue waters lapped on the sandy beach. But everyone’s aware of strange, unexplained things in the deep. The stories were apocryphal, swimmers disappear, boats sink. So with lots of scientists invited, government staffers too, business people, we could learn. Some 20 countries are represented, maybe 25. Two nations were there, neighbours. But they had not been on speaking terms for years due to wars and even genocide. Quite enough tension and uncertainty at the start. This is where the “Management Prescriptions” started.

The professors spoke, a mix of authority and leading questions. There were limnologists, volcanologists, environmentalists, hydrologists. Scientists came with questions and their own answers, each setting their stalls as a subject authority. Each seemed sure of their standing; the pre-eminence of their ideas and interpretation. Government teams introduced themselves and let us know they were there to listen. Diplomats and multi-lateral agencies were there to listen too; the subject was complex and no-one seemed sure who actually had the answers.

What had to be agreed in the document?

All of us knew there was much to figure out in reaching consensus and common purpose. We’d heard about dangers, volcanoes and gas eruptions. Going in I only knew few of the attendees, all Ministry of Energy staffers.

This February 2007 conference was between the two countries bordering Lake Kivu, the DRC and Rwanda. The workshop in Gisenyi was held on lake Kivu’s shores. Indeed, the location was a constant reminder to discuss its safe development. The government of Rwanda had opened a cal five years earlier for developers to start producing gas for power. But studies undertaken showed early evidence that competing ideas on how to do that were uncoordinated. At worst they could be conflicting each other’s operations.

As day one rolled into day two, questions started to outnumber answers. And the answers did not all agree. The 1975 data was dated, but some more recent data from 2004 surveys was being interpreted. However some ideas clashed, understandings were at odds. But if anyone had hoped that we’d all come away with all the answers, they were wrong. We now knew more about what we didn’t know than we’d thought beforehand.

Why did we need them?

During that workshop, the two countries signed an MoU on next steps to be taken to establish the bilateral institutional framework. The framework was to be for the monitoring of Lake Kivu, for the safety of the population and for the environment. The starting point of reference was the 1986 “Socigaz” document that had been bilaterally agreed to govern the use of Lake Kivu for gas extraction.

But circumstances and design ideas had changed since then. The program was primarily to discuss the issues at play in organising more coordinated development of the lake and how to confirm or modify the older Socigaz regulations. The organisers also wished to table new data, new issues and further define the rules of use of the lake. Indeed, the core theme was again to promote lake safety.

But for coordination, the conference had to agree on how establishing common purpose and regulate it. As the conference entered its last session, time had run out to complete this objective. The convener co-opted a group of five experts to extend the discussion “for a few hours or days” and then report back to the organisers. This ad-hoc team of experts reviewed and considered acceptance the current version of rules. Their report-back would confirm their findings.

The series of meetings on Lake Kivu

This Expert Working Group of scientists and technicians reviewed the Socigaz document. But the group rejected its validity as a basis for further development of Lake Kivu. The consensus was that the document was insufficient and too simplistic for the purpose. This group then resolved to work on the new version of the rules and regulations for safe gas extraction from Lake Kivu.

In fact, the exercise extended by over six months. By then it was apparent that agreement was becoming more difficult. Many more issues and concerns arose from deeper analysis. Two schools of thought arose. The team started to question the technical premise on how degassing the lake would be done. At the core of the investigation, the team questioned whether the “legacy” method destroyed the natural safety structure, leaving it unsafe for the long term.

Finalising the MP document

EAWAG organised a follow-up conference in Kastanienbaum, Switzerland in October 2007. In it, the parties made significant progress in understanding impacts of extraction methods. They drafted an early version of the discussion. Later in May 2008, COWI facilitated a further conference of the Experts. John Boyle led the team’s first draft the Management Prescriptions for Lake Kivu Development. Dr Finn Hirslund of COWI hosted the event in Copenhagen, Denmark with World Bank sponsorship. The parties agreed to repeat the exercise a year later in Copenhagen to finalise the document.

The outcome of three years of work later was this key document. Then in June 2009 the experts and conveners of the conference issued as the Management Prescriptions for Lake Kivu Development.

Introduction to Management Prescriptions

1.1 Safe gas extraction in Lake Kivu

The governments of Rwanda and the DRC wished to engage leading experts to explore beneficial ways of exploiting the methane resource in Lake Kivu. It needed to be in a safe, environmentally sound, yet economically profitable way. Reduction of the methane and carbon dioxide content of the waters of lake Kivu was necessary to reduce the risk of sudden eruption of these gases. Minister Albert Butare was Minister of State for Energy in Rwanda. In his role he reached out to all stakeholders, including the Ministry of Hydrocarbons in the DRC.

1.2 Rationale for the conferences

Since the signing of the bilateral MoU, the Expert Working Group has elaborated a Management Prescriptions document. This document delineates basic principles for determining the size, number, location and design of extraction operations. Indeed, it establishes mandatory requirements and guidelines for any gas extraction plant’s design and operation.

Also, the NCEA has provided further advice through its “Advice on Harvesting the Methane Resource and Monitoring the Stratification of Lake Kivu” of 27 August 2007. NCEA also provided its secretariat memo of February 2008. This was on a strategy and action plan for monitoring in Lake Kivu Monitoring, which includes required institutional steps. Meanwhile, the Rwandan government started the extraction of methane through its KP1 pilot plant.

Given that gas extraction operations involved high risk, they need to be done according to agreed-upon safety standards. But without having a bilateral legal and institutional context in which to operate. Thus the Government of Rwanda decided to call for a second conference. Indeed the topic was on safe gas extraction from Lake Kivu. Therefore the conference proceeded in order to come to such arrangements.

1.3 Conference objectives & outcomes

Besides an exchange of most recent collective knowledge and insights, the conference’s objectives were two-fold:

(i) To agree on the need to establish a bilateral authority with regulatory mandate over Lake Kivu. The conference reached agreement on a road map towards it’s establishment and operational mandate;

(ii) To validate and adopt the Management Prescriptions document that the Expert Working Group prepared over the past two years.

Mr. John Boyle (World Bank) coordinated the ad-hoc Expert Working Group from March 2007 to May 2008. The expert working group members were: Dr Finn Hirslund, Mr Philip Morkel and Dr. Klaus Tietze. Then Dr. Martin Schmid and Prof. Alfred Wüest later joined the group.

John Boyle had left the Group before the May 2009 meeting of the experts and interested parties. Philip Morkel assumed the role as scribe for the final document for issue.

Attendees at the 2009 Copenhagen conference on Lake Kivu's Management Prescriptions
Attendees at the 2009 Copenhagen conference on Lake Kivu’s Management Prescriptions

Notes on the Workshop Report May 2009:

Rwanda’s ESIA Profile:

The Management Prescriptions Document:

Read more “Management Prescriptions: the “how-to” of Lake Kivu”
Panoramic photo of Mt Nyiragongo from Lake Kivu during wet season showing steam plume Gas recovery

Hydragas Sway Presentation on Lake Kivu

Online Presentation of the Lake Kivu Project

Find out here more about Hydragas Energy, in this presentation format. For that, you can use this link to access the presentation in Sway, a little used Microsoft Presentation format.

Sway is in fact view-able on any web browser. So try viewing the Sway presentation here now. It will give a quick insight on Lake Kivu’s development. Similarly, it will illustrate the approach used by Hydragas Energy to carry out Lake Kivu development.

See the presentation link below:

Go to this Sway

Perito Moreno Glacier c. Steve Humphreys, Getty Climate Funding

Breakdown of Arctic Methane Hydrates

Like ‘champagne bottles being opened’

Scientists document an ancient methane explosion

Ice Floe in Arctic Sea

Ice Floe in the Arctic Sea near Svalbard: In this photo provided by Dirk Notz, taken April 24, 2009, ice floats in the Arctic near Svalbard, Norway. A new study has found evidence of an ancient methane “explosion” from Arctic Methane Hydrates in the Barents Sea near Svalbard. (Dirk Notz via Associated Press)

This article has some important lessons for changes coming in the Arctic during the global warming. What if we get sudden explosive outbursts of methane from the ocean floor? A ship or boat could sink if travelling above. It would disappear without a trace in seconds. Arctic methane hydrates are shallower than most hydrates. They kept in place by temperature, rather than just pressure. 

Arctic methane hydrates are widespread in the Arctic Sea north of Canada and Russia. These coastal waters are being spoken of as convenient shipping lanes in the decades ahead. 

June 1, 2017

Nearly 12,000 years ago, a sudden burst of methane surged from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean leaving an array of gigantic craters in its wake. And a slow trickle of gas continues to leak from the seafloor to this day.

The findings, described in a paper published Thursday in the journal Science. They are the latest of recent discoveries pointing to Arctic methane hydrates explosions in the ancient past. And the findings have inspired debate among scientists about whether such an event could happen again and how it could affect the climate.

“The authors show exciting new evidence that this methane can be trapped in the sediment and released in large bursts, with a much greater potential of reaching the atmosphere,” said Stephen Grasby. He is a research scientist with Natural Resources Canada, who was not involved with the new research, in an emailed comment.

This matters because methane is a potent greenhouse gas — its warming effect on the atmosphere is up to 30 times as strong as that of carbon dioxide. This is when taken over a period of 100 years or so. So the discovery of any new methane sources or leaks on the planet is a point of interest with climate scientists.

Methane Seeps from Arctic Methane Hydrates

But the climate implications of underwater methane leaks are murkier. First, these leaks or “seeps” are by no means rare. There are hundreds of known seeps throughout the ocean floor. They’re the result of a natural process, in which methane forms as organic matter decomposes at the bottom of the sea. It then gradually bubbles back up from the sediment into the water column.

Scientists generally believe that the methane leaking from these seeps never makes it to the surface of the ocean. Instead it dissolves in the water on its way up. But some suggest that an explosion, of the type described in Thursday’s paper, could produce enough force. This would send some gas straight up to the surface and into the atmosphere. In the atmosphere it has potentially climate-warming consequences.

The new paper describes one such event that occurred about 12,000 years ago. It was in what is now the Barents Sea, a region of the Arctic Ocean stretching between Norway and Russia. There, at the bottom of the ocean floor, stands a collection of more than 100 craters. Some are as much as 3,000 feet wide and nearly 100 feet deep. The researchers believe they were formed by sudden rushes of methane from the seafloor.

Methane, although most commonly observed in gas form, can sometimes become trapped at the bottom of the ocean in very deep or cold regions. It freezes into a solid substance known as a methane hydrate. It can remain trapped this way indefinitely until something destabilizes it.

Glacial Retreat

The area where the craters are located was once covered by extensive glaciers. These placed enormous pressure on the land beneath them, helping to form the methane hydrates and keep them stable. But about 15,000 years ago, the ice sheet began to retreat. It was gradually releasing some of that pressure. As this happened, the space in the ground where conditions were right for the hydrates to remain stable grew thinner and thinner.

“The thinning and the retreating of the ice sheet led to increased concentration of gas hydrates in increasingly shallow layers below the ice sheet.” Karin Andreassen is the new paper’s lead author and a professor of marine geology and geophysics at the Center for Arctic Gas Hydrate, Environment and Climate at the Arctic University of Norway.

Ancient Global Warming

At the same time, temperatures in the region were increasing. And as the ice continued to retreat the enormous pressure was relieved. Earth’s crust began to bounce back into shape. These factors further contributed to the compression of the hydrates in the Arctic sediment. They also began to cause mounds to rise up at the bottom of the newly formed sea. Finally, the pressure became too much, the gas burst forth. So the mounds collapsed into the craters we observe today.

“I think it was probably like a lot of champagne bottles being opened at different times,” Andreassen said.

Although there’s no evidence that other sudden bursts have occurred in the region since, there appears to still be a substantial reservoir of gas there. To this day, methane and other hydrocarbons continue to slowly vent from the seafloor. And they probably have been since the explosion occurred, Andreassen said.

She added that there’s evidence of other intact hydrates still in the region — mounds that have yet to burst — and what will happen to them in the future remains unclear.

Arctic Methane Hydrate Explosions

As for the methane explosion, it’s not the only such event to have occurred in ancient Arctic history. Grasby, the Natural Resources Canada scientist, recently published research describing a cluster of rocky mounds in the Canadian Arctic. Researchers believed they were also caused by an ancient methane explosion, although much further in the past. Grasby’s mounds were likely formed about 100 million years ago This was probably after a sudden warming period in Earth’s history destabilized the hydrates.

He raised the question in his paper of whether modern-day Arctic warming could be priming the region for another methane explosion in the future. It also raised the question whether that gas could make it to the atmosphere. The concern is that this scenario could lead to a dramatic amplification of global warming. This could even potentially trigger a climate feedback loop, in which more warming causes more methane to be released.

But some scientists have contested this idea. When Grasby’s paper was released in April, geophysicist Carolyn Ruppel of the U.S. Geological Survey told The Washington Post that the findings did not substantially change our understanding of what happens to methane when it vents from the ocean floor. She has generally taken a skeptical position on the theory that unstable methane hydrates could lead to runaway climate effects.

Too Soon for Conclusions

Andreassen, too, cautioned that these theories have no concrete support for the time being. She noted that it would be a “dramatic conclusion” to assume that ancient methane explosions had a significant effect on the climate. This is without substantial extra work to back up the idea. But conditions in the Arctic are rapidly changing, thanks to the climate change. Still, because Arctic methane hydrates do still exist in the region — it’s a scenario deserving of continued research.

But we haven’t observed any similar explosions in the present day. That is not yet, anyway — Grasby also agrees that there’s considerable uncertainty remains about exactly what happens when such an event occurs.

“The novel study points out that we still have a poor understanding of the mechanisms of how methane hydrates melt and release gas. We need this to understand the potential of that methane to reach the atmosphere,” he said.

See the link:

Gas recovery

We Need a Hero to Make Projects Legendary

Rory Harbinson on a tour of Lake Kivu, Looking at the old gas plant
Rory Harbinson

Projects need a hero

What best do you remember about any project? I’m talking of memories that linger long after any statistics, the millions of incident-free hours. The type of memories outlive the productivity data, or the lists of who was there, got fired, or even who screwed up. No, those fade as fast as management’s promises to look after you when this project’s is done. Instead, for that enduring memory, we need a hero.

Rather, these are the stark, vivid, often humorous memories. They speak of real people that won’t recede from memory.  Their stories are re-told in those long evenings after a days work, on another project on another continent. We hold a place in our hearts for such special people. It’s because we need them to be there, for us.

Telling their story goes deep. It’s way deeper than the glib “employee of the month” commendation. They’re more vivid than the winners of company awards with their awkward photo-opps and certificates. This character is not one for parading even at a gala dinner. He’d more likely skip attending. I’m sure you know him, in fact I really hope for you that you know one like him.  Projects without him are short on character, dryer than binge-watching public service TV.

Saving the day, again and again

I remember it so on a project on one of the Great Lakes of Africa. But it was over a decade before that, deep in Mozambique. My hero had also made his mark. He saved the day, again and again. He did it in true carpe diem style.

The lake one was on a project testing an innovation. This one could prove up something massively important for our clean energy future. It can mitigate two gigatons of carbon and save lives. It promises to be a major gas project on Lake Kivu, producing power for two countries. More than that, it can avert a gas eruption that could otherwise kill millions around the lake.

But that one day, late January 2004, it really seemed close to failing. The project’s aims seemed too far of a stretch. We had totally new and un-tested technology and equipment. It was complex physics, pushing the boundary of gas-liquid theory. It was a search for better ways to produce one of the world’s untapped, but prolific low-carbon energy sources. Our project’s speculative chances seemed to have run their course. No time was left, no budget, even hope was dwindling. No damn gas.

Our team of scientists and engineers, electronics technicians, were all scratching their heads. This had been a remote chance, like doing experiments in outer space – nobody had done it before. Silence, hanging; but the unspoken question was clear, “Was this all just bullshit science?” How could you even imagine that this would really work? Nobody has done this before.” A palpable sense of mission failure was about.

Need a hero? Enter Rory

Rory stepped up. He was the construction guy, a real-life MacGyver; but like on steroids. He was a diesel mechanic by trade, my first pick for any job in Africa for his sheer resourcefulness, anywhere. He stated calmly, “Listen up, we’re going to do this again, no giving up. We’ve come too far and this is not how this story ends. Tomorrow we’ll take it all apart, figure it out, put it back again. It will be a long day, we leave at dawn. Be at the dock at six.”

This was a serious side of Rory. No nonsense. His usual impish sense of humour was put aside. He’d always kept the team in good spirits. He always came up with a name for everyone. He called the English GM of the local brewery “Alf” because he was an “ambitious little f—–r.” Fabrizio, the young engineer, was forever “picannin”, African vernacular for a small boy.

The local crew spoke no English, except Tomas. He was the unofficial but sometimes laughably incompetent translator. Tomas called Rory “Mr Lolly.” Tomas kept his own name, but “Shorty”, “P–s-face”, “Tiger” and others never did. Rory stayed in touch with Tomas for years.

The universal language of trust

Language was never a barrier to communication for him. He spoke no French or Portuguese or local dialects, but I saw simple and demonstrative communication with his crews in Rwanda and Mozambique. It was clear that they understood him, but also respected and trusted him. Rory had a deep humanity, sometimes disguised but never absent. Wherever he was, he was the go-to person for anyone in dire need. People just knew that.

Cyclone Geralda in Mozambique caused torrential rain  as it hit Madagascar in 1994

Cyclone Geralda in the Mozambique Channel

He single-handedly fixed transport and power problems caused by 500mm of rain from Cyclone Geralda at Inhassoro in Inhambane Province, Mozambique. This was in 1994 when floods stranded tens of thousands of people. The flood had cut all north-south roads in a 500-year event. What do you do when you need a hero, but helicopters and aid don’t arrive for a week and then left after a week. He organized locals to bring their sea-going fishing boats to provide ferry services. Rory even showed them how to strip down cars and walk them across the flooded breaks in the highway, like he had done for himself. The “detour” around this break was 500km and a week’s drive. It wasn’t fixed for three months before the water subsided.

You don’t belong in any jail

He was once briefly in jail in Vilankulo. This was for taking his own boat out into the Mozambique Channel, cutting foreign pirate fishermen’s long-lines. They were illegally fishing in a dugong marine reserve, aware that the government had no patrol vessels to interdict them. On finding out that the rogue fishermen’s complaint had landed him in jail, the police chief let him free, saying he didn’t belong near a jail cell – they did.

Several times he rescued foreign tourists. Often people were seriously injured in road accidents. This was in a remote region of Mozambique  where ambulance services didn’t exist. So he got on with arranging Casevac flights and communicating with the injured’s families.

Back to the lake story; so the next day we packed two Marine boats with tools and supplies. Rory hired ten extra crew for the muscle-burning work of hauling up kilometers of pipe, cable, anchors and weights, hand-over-hand. We motored out over the calm morning water to the experimental rig, at first just a misty dot on the horizon. It was a silent trip, with even Rory deciding not to make jokes.

Making Voodoo

We all hauled pipe. The crew hauled 300 m of it out of the deep water and over the 10m steel deck with a rhythmic chant. We were checking joints, looking for tell-tale bubbles, stripping the electronics and lowering the pipe back into the depths. That evening, ashore, Rory patiently laid out the bundles of cable, meggering and checking each length and each joint. He then opened up the steel canisters of electronics, built to withstand deep water pressure at 300m. The tell-tale capacitance reading was way off, seals had been compromised – a key discovery. So these canisters were dried out and re-made and double-sealed for good measure. Some hope now.

Repairs on the Kivu Pilot Project
Repairs on the Kivu Pilot Project

At dawn the next day the boats were re-loaded, with the same extra crew. It was 26 January 2004. Rory had decided that this day everything needed to be aligned. The locals spoke of the legends and mysteries in this lake; there was a mythical deep-water creature that needed to be appeased before we could be successful. The crew would find a sacrificial goat, so one was waiting on the boat too. Optimism was up.

The goat & the weather gods

Our local crew members slaughtered the goat. Its head was weighted and cast in, falling the 400m to the lake bottom. As if on cue the weather calmed, the lake surface perfectly mirrored the orange sun in a sky filled with volcanic haze. Even the electronic capacitance of the system was right on target, for the first time in weeks.

Crew on deck during gas testing of the pilot project on 30 Januray 2004
Rory and Fabrizio on the pilot-testing deck January 2004

We had to work fast. With the pipe again hauled over the deck, this time fitted with the cables and canisters, it was attached to the gas separator along with all the other gas lines and instruments. The whole bundle was lowered by winch into the water. All final safety checks were made.

We repeated the start-up routine, once again. The same tense anticipation, hoping for a result this time. Next we connected the electronics to excite the gas, the pipes primed with deep, gas-rich water. Then the clatter of the generator joined in its chorus with the sputter of a compressor. We watched as it bubbled air through the riser pipe to prime the gas-lift pumping. A low surge of water rose out of the pipe, growing steadily until it was a metre high fountain of bubbling water.

Success at last

Suddenly it surged, shooting 10m into the air like fire-hose, with much greater energy. With the gas directed to the flare it lit up enough to feel the heat on the barge. Over the roar of the water fountain and the hammering noise of the machines on deck, everyone was shouting. Rory lit up the gas flare. Smiles broke out everywhere. Hand-shakes. Success at last!

Rory stood calmly in the background, lit up a cigarette and gave a quick smile. “Cooking on gas,” he said, then “Never fear, Rory’s here.”

In memory of Rory

Rory_HarbinsonRory Harbinson died 2014 in South Africa aged 57. Lung cancer. It was just a day after we finally spoke. It hurt to hear him struggle to be heard. I hoped with everything that I had that he would get better, but I could not see him pull off this last miracle. I’d said to him the things that I felt. “I’ve met and discussed things with Presidents and Prime Ministers, great scientists and business leaders. But Changamire, you still remain one of two greatest people I’ve known. I owe you so much more than you can imagine.”

Even as we finished that project in 2004, I said to him that when we build that big, ugly construction barge for these projects on the lake, it will be the “SS Rory.” I get to name something, after all. Millions of people, that may never know his name, could some day owe their lives to his work that day. He wouldn’t want anyone to feel obliged, let alone fuss. Read more “We Need a Hero to Make Projects Legendary”