Japan, a country deep in the throes of economic expansion, is in need of more and more energy to meet growing demands. To counter this need, Japan is now extracting natural gas from an offshore deposit of methane hydrates. This is the first time these production methods have been used and tested in deep sea formation.
According to researchers, frozen deposits of the main ingredient in natural gas found in ocean sediments near permafrost, otherwise known as methane hydrates, are more abundant in gas than other reserves – 35% more abundant. For Japan, using methane hydrates may mean the difference between being energy starved or having a hundred year supply of natural gas.
Japan, Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) is in charge of the tests to determine whether or not this technique is effective, and most importantly, safe. In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japan is more careful than ever in making sure its domestic sources of energy are safe.
However, no one is claiming methane hydrates are environmentally safe just yet. Experts believe that while an exciting prospect, it is still in the R&D phase of development.
Environmental hazards are being scrutinized, and there is a possibility that removing gas will cause changes in the geology, and may cause sediments to compact or seafloor topography to change.
Japan’s methane hydrate studies in coming years will involve data gathering about the environmental effects of drilling.
Since the use of methane hydrates is still in its infancy and not yet deemed viable or safe, there are significant obstacles. The first drilling will probably take place in the Arctic since there is a drilling infrastructure already in place, however, in offshore Japan, no natural gas pipeline exists. The Japanese government is funding researchers who will perform a months-long test that, if successful, will attract commercial oil and gas companies. Testing and demonstration of this magnitude are expensive.
JOGMEC believes that the eastern Nankai trough contains so much natural gas that it would displace 11 years of natural gas imports, and the organization hopes that Japan will be the first country in the world to commercially produce natural gas from offshore hydrates.