Japan Successfully Extracts Natural Gas from Underwater Deposits of Flammable Ice

methane_hydrateOn March 12, 2013, Japan became the first country to successfully extract natural gas from underwater deposits of methane hydrate. Methane hydrate is a frozen gas that is referred to as flammable ice or fire ice. State-run Japan Oil, Gas and Metal National Corporation (JOGMEC) have been spearheading the initiative.

Japan is a major importer of energy. In fact, the country is the number one importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG). With renewable sources of energy like wind and solar still in early stages and the catastrophic nuclear incident, this breakthrough could be a net positive for Japan’s energy needs. The big question presents the issue of commercial viability and scalability. If the technology is scalable like fracking was for the Americas, it could greatly influence energy extraction. This possible technological impact would increase flows to sovereign wealth funds and possibly create new energy funds globally. If Japan were to rely less on LNG imports, it would have a negative effect on current LNG exporters.

Cost-effective, innovative extraction methodologies lead to energy bonanzas.

Before people get their hopes up, there are some pressing issues. It will take time as Japan plans to have a commercially viable model in place by 2019. In addition, methane hydrates are located in colder environments or places that are challenging to drill and extract.

JOGMEC believes at a minimum there are 1.1 trillion cubic meters of methane hydrate in the Eastern Nankai Trough where it is currently drilling. This amount of methane hydrate is enough to provide Japan with enough natural gas for a little more than a decade. In total, off Japan’s coast there is an estimated 7 trillion cubic meters of methane hydrate.

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