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)

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