Japanese researchers from Meiji University have discovered new deposits of methane hydrate in the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk. These were present on the sea floor at approximately 800 to 1000m depth. The substance, often referred to as ‘burning ice’, is very important in the hunt for alternative fuel sources as it holds huge reserves of natural gas.
Although the gas is very difficult to extract, the US Department of Energy and Japan, who were in collaboration over the project, announced in May that they had successfully extracted a flow of natural gas from methane hydrates.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) referred to the substance as “a vast, entirely untapped resource that holds enormous potential for U.S. economic and energy security” and declared the successful extraction project, “unprecedented”. In August this year, the DOE announced $2 million funding for Scientific Institutions and Universities to assess the potential of methane hydrate and test additional technologies which may be used in the detection and extraction of it on a much larger scale, particularly around the U.S Gulf Coast. The DOE calls methane hydrate “the Earth’s biggest potential source of hydrocarbon energy”. Japan is also searching for viable alternatives to nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster of 2011 and the discovery of this vast resource may be highly beneficial to Japan’s future energy plans. The Japanese research team will commence further surveys to determine the amount of methane hydrate in the area.
This follows the recent news that shale oil has been extracted from an oil field in Japan. Shale oil, like methane hydrate, may be a feasible alternative fuel source but had been very difficult to extract until now. The Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. (JAPEX), succeeded in doing this by pumping hydrochloric acid into shale layers about 1,800 meters underground. JAPEX is currently conducting tests to examine the profitability of extracting the oil as the amount of oil present is relatively little.
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