I was all like, "I wonder if this compound - "a material made out of a mixture of silica and water" - is environmentally problematic." Looking throughout the document, I see nothing about this aspect to the problem. Hmm... With all the discussions about geo-engineering our way out of the "global warming" problem, I'm surprised that these engineers missed this one.
Of course, this could be a problem of thinking within a discipline. It could well be that the engineers on this team didn't think about the potential of capturing methane from melting permafrost areas to help minimize the impacts to the greenhouse effect. It could be that the didn't know that the permafrost was melting. It could also be that they didn't check to see what the environmental impacts of their compound would be, and therefore didn't want to forward its use in this manner as a suggestion...
Remember, though, that methane is roughly 24x more potent of a GHG than CO2. Providing a mechanism for mitigating its release from the high-latitudes would be a good way of minimizing the forcing in the not-so-distant future. (I wonder if there are contact e-mail addresses for the authors.)
UPDATE: Looking over at the Prof.'s lab's website, I see the following:
But there remain many obstacles to making this a viable industrial process. For one thing, the hydrate remains stable only if kept cold. It must be refrigerated to about minus 70°C at atmospheric pressure, although this temperature threshold is higher if the hydrate sits within an environment of pressurized methane. The methane is released again if the material warms up.So not very useful as a preventative for global warming, then. Still, though, quite interesting.