New York's 'Eternal Flame' Holds Natural Gas Secret
We may have more gas resources than previously believed: researcher
By Matt Cantor, Newser User
Posted May 14, 2013 10:06 AM CDT
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(Newser) – An "eternal flame" tucked behind a western New York state waterfall could have been lit as many as thousands of years ago—but it's only now revealing secrets about the natural gas that fuels it. There are thought to be a few hundred of these natural flames around the world, though the one in Chestnut Ridge Park has been dubbed the planet's "most beautiful" eternal flame by Giuseppe Etiope, an expert on such flames. LiveScience reports that Etiope and two members of the Indiana Geological Survey recently studied the flame, and found that while the gas that feeds it usually hails from scalding-hot shale buried well below the Earth's surface, the shale under this flame is just warm, "like a cup of tea."

Typically, those boiling temperatures allow for the breakdown of the carbon molecules within the shale into natural gas; in this case, it appears that organic molecules in the shale are forming the gas via a mysterious catalyst. "This mechanism has been proposed for many years, but it was a curiosity that nobody believed in," says one of the researchers. It could be happening elsewhere, too, which would suggest that "we have much more shale-gas resources than we thought," he notes. Interestingly, setting fire to gas seeps like this one could help the environment: When lit, emerging methane becomes carbon dioxide, posing less of a heat-trapping threat.

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May 14, 2013 4:59 PM CDT
On the other hand, a natural gas flare has been burning near my home for about 30 years. At times it surges up to 20 feet high. I can't imagine how many cubic feet of gas has left that tower. But I guess they figured it wasn't worth capturing or converting to electricity. On the other hand, there are three more flares on the four trash piles in our town. They also burn off a huge amount of methane due to the electric utility not wanting any more trash based generating in the city. That leaves on trash pile with a generator supplying power to the local Air Force base. It was providing power to the GMAD plant before they stopped making the Trailblazer there. But it folded in the bankruptcy and the county bought it and leased it to the neighboring base. So the electric utility said they would not buy the electricity. Thankfully the base agreed to take the almost free power.
May 14, 2013 1:11 PM CDT
Hadn't heard of these before. Interesting.
May 14, 2013 12:36 PM CDT
Mind boggle: "When lit, emerging methane becomes carbon dioxide, posing less of a heat-trapping threat." Explanation in the original, few words missing in the Newser report: Fire converts methane to carbon dioxide, which traps about 20 times less heat than methane in the atmosphere, Mastalerz told OurAmazingPlanet.