TOKYO — Japan said Tuesday that it had extracted gas from offshore deposits of methane hydrate — sometimes called “flammable ice” — a breakthrough that officials and experts said could be a step toward tapping a promising but still little-understood energy source.
The gas, whose extraction from the undersea hydrate reservoir was thought to be a world first, could provide an alternative source of energy to known oil and gas reserves. That could be crucial especially for Japan, which is the world’s biggest importer of liquefied natural gas and is engaged in a public debate about whether to resume the country’s heavy reliance on nuclear power.
Experts estimate that the carbon found in gas hydrates worldwide totals at least twice the amount of carbon in all of the earth’s other fossil fuels, making it a potential game-changer for energy-poor countries like Japan. Researchers had already successfully extracted gas from onshore methane hydrate reservoirs, but not from beneath the seabed, where much of the world’s deposits are thought to lie.
David Fuller's view Most of our non-human problems can and will be resolved by technology, which is in an accelerated phase of development. These include abundant and acceptable, in terms of emissions, supplies of energy without which modern societies could not exist.
For decades various pundits have predicted that we were doomed in terms of energy supplies, which they felt were running out. Most subscribers will remember the 'Peak Oil', concerns.
Inevitably, some known supplies of oil were being reduced, not least conventional wells in the USA and other developed countries. However, forecasts that they were running out, in terms of what could be recovered, have proved to be premature. We can thank technology for their additional years in production.
Furthermore, we have known about the existence of shale deposits of oil and gas for over a century. We have also known about methane hydrate supplies for a considerable period. Fortunately, necessity has proved once again to be the mother of invention. Shale gas and oil are being produced in increasing quantities, at least in some parts of the world. I would not bet against the ability of Japan and other nations to develop commercially offshore deposits of methane hydrates.
Some sincere green lobbyists feel that to have any chance of 'saving the planet', we should not develop these fossil fuel deposits. That seems short-sighted to me. Once again, we can use technology to reduce harmful emissions. Energy companies are increasingly focussing on the production of natural gas, because it is considerably less harmful to the global economy than other fossil fuels.
Natural gas is rapidly becoming the fuel of choice. Surely this is preferable to sapping the economic vitality of economies, as we see across much of Europe, by subsidising inefficient windmills at the tax payers' expense.