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Japan Begins Test Production of Frozen Gas Under Seabed

Japan Begins Test Production of Frozen Gas Locked Under Seabed
A flare is seen as gas from methane hydrate was produced from drilling in the Nankai Trough about 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the coast of Honshu island, Japan, in this handout photograph released to the media on March 12, 2013. Source: Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. via Bloomberg

Japan, which imports almost all its energy, produced gas in the world’s first tests to extract the fuel from methane hydrate deposits under the seabed, Japan Oil, Gas & Metals National Corp. said in an e-mailed statement.

Gas was produced during drilling today in the Nankai Trough about 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the coast of the country’s main Honshu island, the government-affiliate known as JOGMEC said.

Deposits of methane hydrate, known as “burnable ice,” may be large enough to supply the country’s natural gas needs for about 100 years, according to JOGMEC. The government plans to develop technology to enable commercial use by fiscal 2018.

“Methane hydrate may start a revolution in Japan as shale gas did in the U.S., but there are still a lot of challenges ahead,” said Yuji Morita, a senior researcher at the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan.

Shares of Japan Petroleum Exploration Co., the operator of the offshore project, rose 5.7 percent to close at 4,175 yen on the Tokyo Stock Exchange today after surging as much as 15 percent. Shares of Japan Drilling Co., which signed a contract to drill wells for the test project last year, rose 18 percent to the daily upper limit of 6,480 yen.

Eastern Nankai Trough deposits of methane hydrate, or natural gas locked in an ice-like cage of water molecules, may hold the equivalent of about 40 trillion cubic feet of methane, a primary element of natural gas, JOGMEC said in the statement. That’s equivalent to about eleven years of Japan’s LNG imports, it said.

The vessel Chikyu drilled into the seabed off Atsumi Peninsula, central Japan, to extract the gas from methane hydrate deposits 300 meters below the ocean floor at a depth of about 1,000 meters, the trade and industry ministry said.

In 2008, JOGMEC extracted gas from methane hydrate in permafrost in northern Canada. It was the world’s first continuous and stable gas production from methane hydrate sediments, according to the company.

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