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【METI Mobile】 “Fiery Ice ” Buried Under Japan’s Seabed

photo:Methane hydrate burning

“Fiery ice” is another name for methane hydrate, a substance confirmed to lie under the seabed around Japan by a FY 2015 survey.

What is methane hydrate?

Methane hydrate consists of methane gas frozen by low-temperature, high-pressure conditions under the deep seabed, at depths ranging from 500-1,000m. Until recently, hardly anything was known about the methane hydrate under the Sea of Japan. However, previous surveys have estimated that total quantity of methane hydrate on Japan’s Pacific coast could create enough energy to replace the nation’s natural gas consumption for a decade.

Two types of methane hydrate

Methane hydrate forms in two places: shallow methane hydrate is present near the surface of the seabed, while sand-layer pore-filling type methane hydrate exists under the seabed. The Sea of Japan holds an abundance of shallow methane hydrate, the focus of the most recent survey. The survey investigated the composition of specific topographic features believed to indicate the presence of methane hydrate, such as mounds and depressions.

Prospects for its use as a resource

A successful trial collection of sand-layer pore-filling type methane hydrate in the Pacific Ocean was conducted in March 2013, but consistent and economical extraction has posed a problem due in part to machinery becoming clogged with sand. It remains unclear whether there is an adequate quantity of shallow methane hydrate in the Sea of Japan.

(Burning off methane gas in an offshore production test)

Overcoming technical restrictions

Crude oil prices around the world are still very low. Unlike petroleum and liquefied natural gas (LNG), methane hydrate cannot currently be used as a domestic energy source because an economic extraction method has yet to be discovered. Nevertheless, technological progress can bring about unexpected changes. METI will strive to bring commercial production to fruition, with the aim of increasing Japan’s energy self-sufficiency rate, currently at 6%.

Last updated: 2016-06-30
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
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