Japan Converts Methane Hydrate into Natural Gas

natural gas bubbles

Japan has become the first country to successfully extract natural gas from underwater sources of frozen methane hydrate, according to the ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

The breakthrough, made at a site 50 miles off the coast, could mark the beginning of a move towards commercial production and Ryo Minami of the Agency for Natural Resources has already drawn comparisons with the recent boom in fracking, saying:

Ten years ago, everybody knew there was shale gas in the ground, but to extract it was too costly. Yet now it’s commercialised.

Energy security is a pressing issue for Japan, who depend heavily on resources from other countries. The new technology, which was developed by the government working in conjunction with The Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp, allows the gas to be extracted from solid deposits by reducing the pressure in the underground layers between which it’s held, then dissolving it into a well from which it can be collected.

Methane hydrate is often found in the seabed at points deeper than 500 meters where there’s enough pressure to combine methane and water and is in plentiful supply around the coast of Japan. Indeed, researchers have estimated that there are at least 1.1 trillion cubic meters of methane hydrates off the Atsumi Peninsula, which could meet Japan’s gas demand for 11 years. In total, there could well be enough gas in the waters surrounding Japan to supply the country for the next 100 years.

However, at present it is unknown whether the extraction process can be carried out in a cost effective manner. On top of this, the environmental risks are yet to be properly weighed up. Oil and gas expert, Aleksandr Nazarov warns that:

All works with alternative gas production are posing constant risk to the environment […] Nuclear energy, even though potentially dangerous, does not contaminate the environment in its regular course of things. It’s all about the balance of risks. We are yet to find out how dangerous can be even the alternative production methods if they endure incidents similar to the earthquake and tsunami that took place in Japan two years ago.

Green Steve’s Reaction

I’d be interested to know what the energy requirements of the whole process are to ensure it is not going to turn into another oil sands situation where things are so inefficient that it does more harm than good.

While natural gas is less polluting than coal in terms of power production and while it is a vital fuel source for most homes, I hope that this dash for gas doesn’t prevent Japan from investing in a sustainable future powered by renewables.

Steve (156 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

Hire Me - did you enjoy this post? Let me write thought provoking environmental and green living articles for your website or blog

One Response to “Japan Converts Methane Hydrate into Natural Gas”

Anti-Wind Farm Campaign Ad Banned for Misleading Public

The anti-wind turbine campaigning body, 'Communities Against Windfarms in Scotland', has come in for criticism from the advertising watchdog for running an ad which depicts what the Scottish landscape might...
New Power Station to Run On Landfill-Bound Waste

A disused coal-fired power station in Cheshire has received government approval to reopen as an energy-from-waste plant. The Department of Energy and Climate Change released the news that a year long inquir...
Is Overpopulation Really Worth Focusing On?

For quite some time now I've wanted to write a post about population and the many concerns that people have about how a rising one will impact the environment but I'm also conscious of the fact that it is q...
Africa’s Biggest Power Plant to Built in Ghana

Ghana is to see a significant rise in energy capacity, as well as the creation of hundreds of jobs, thanks to the building of the continent's largest solar power plant. A British company, Blue Energy, is l...
Think Tank Finds Turning Away From Gas Will Boost Economy

According to the Cambridge Econometrics think tank, the UK would be £20bn better off in 2030 by focusing on offshore wind farms as a means of replacing aging power plants, as opposed to increasing gas fired e...
Coal Set to Overtake Oil by 2022

A report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) has claimed that over the next decade coal will replace oil as the world's leading source of energy. Growing demand in highly populous countries such as ...