Japan has successfully captured natural gas from deep under the ocean by tapping into methane hydrates, using a new technology that could revolutionize the world’s energy supply. It is the first country to succeed in exploiting the gas.
The gas supplies locked into methane hydrates, also known as methane clathrates and “fire ice”, are potentially the largest single source of fossil fuels on the planet and for Japan, a country desperate for its own energy supplies, this could be an economic lifeline.
On the other hand, many would regard almost unlimited supplies of a new fossil fuel as bad news in a world where there is already climate change caused by man’s existing excess carbon emissions.
The announcement of the successful extraction of methane from underneath the sea floor off the Japanese coast came from the country’s Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry (METI). The tests by the state-owned Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) are continuing. It hopes to exploit the technology commercially in a new phase of drilling between 2016 and 2018.
According to the US Oil & Gas Journal, the test well is in 1,000 metres of water off the Atsumi and Shima peninsulas. The hydrate is a further 270 metres below the sea bed in the Nankai trough.
This is well within economic reach for a pipeline from potential industrial and domestic users in central Japan. The hydrate is basically frozen methane and water, which forms in large lumps under the right temperature and pressure conditions.
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