According to the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), it has successfully extracted natural gas from methane hydrate deposits from under the seabed off the country’s coast.
The discovery could not only open up a super-resource that meets Japan’s gas needs for the next 100 years, but also radically alter the entire planet’s energy outlook.
Methane hydrate is a compound that traps a large amount of methane within it, in this case in the form of a crystal structure made up of water that forms a solid similar to ice.
The state-owned JOGMEC used an exploration ship to successfully drill 300 metres below the seabed, before using a depressurisation method to flow gas from methane hydrate layers.
Risk and reward
The process is a dangerous one and it requires great skill to extract the methane safely, but the resulting resource could have enormous implications for the global energy market.
“Methane hydrates available within Japan’s territorial waters may well be able to supply the nation’s natural gas needs for a century,” JOGMEC said.
According to the company, around 40 trillion cubic feet of methane is currently held in methane hydrate deposits under the seabed in the eastern Nankai Trough, which is located off the southern coast of the Japanese island Honshu.
This reserve alone is the same as a decade’s worth of the liquefied natural gas which is currently currently imported to Japan.
The promising news is that the waters currently under exploration also contain large reserves, suggesting that other countries could benefit from importing the resource in the years ahead, or discovering their own deposits.
Similar projects are being carried out in the US, Canada and China but this is the most successful exploration yet and raises the hope that the methane hydrate could become a major energy source for nations across the planet, including the UK.
A geological survey carried out in the US has previously suggested that methane hydrates offer an “immense carbon reservoir”, double that of all other known fossil fuels on the planet.
If greater reserves are identified and access to the resource can be increased, it could bring down domestic energy bills across the world as reliance on fossil fuels decreases.
However, experts note that more work needs to be done to understand the ecological impact of methane hydrate, as well as creating new technology to successfully and safely extract the resource.
Takami Kawamoto, an official responsible for the methane hydrate project at JOGMEC, told Dow Jones that the development of the technology will take time, adding: “We are studying many things that are not yet known about methane hydrate.”
In the meantime, the company is planning to launch new expeditions drilling as deep as 7,000 metres below the seabed, in seas as deep as 4,000 metres, to search for new, untapped resources.