Japan is first to unlock frozen gas from under sea

JAPAN has successfully extracted natural gas from methane ­hydrate deposits under the sea, in the first example of production of the gas offshore.

Its trade ministry yesterday showed what it said was gas flaming from a pipe at the project in the Pacific Ocean 50 miles off the coast of central Japan.

The breakthrough could be a step toward eventual commercial production, though the costs of extracting gas from the seabed are much higher than for other forms of production.

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Methane hydrate is a form of methane gas frozen below the seabed or frozen ground. Japanese scientists previously succeeded in producing such gas from permafrost in Canada in 2007-08.

Resource-poor Japan, which imports most of its energy, hopes to develop ways to produce natural gas from its own reserves.

The Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation and a government research institute, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, used a technology they developed to reduce pressure in the underground layers holding the methane hydrate 4,360ft below the sea surface, and then dissolved it into gas and water, collecting the gas through a well, the ministry said.

Methane hydrate looks like ice but burns like a candle if warmed by a match.

With the boom in production of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing boosting supplies, there is little need to resort to more costly extraction of the frozen gas. But it is considered a future resource, and studies show substantial reserves in various regions, including the Nankai trough off Japan’s eastern coast, the northern Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s North Slope.