Japan announced Tuesday that researchers had succesfully produced natural gas from offshore methane hydrates, a breakthrough with potentially explosive consequences for both global energy markets and the effort to tackle climate change.
The Japanese Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry announced that a team aboard a drilling ship pearched above the Eastern Nankai Trough had extracted the gas from hydrates trapped 1,000 feet below the sea floor surface. Methane hydrates, also known as clathrates, are deposits of natural gas trapped within the crystaline structure of frozen water, leading some to refer to hydrates as “fire ice.”
The extraction of usable gas from undersea methane hydrates Tuesday was thought to be the world’s first, a breakthrough step towards tapping a potentially massive new alternative source of natural gas.
Estimates of the scale of hydrate resources are enormous, ranging from 10,000 trillion cubic feet (TCF) to more than 100,000 TCF. To put that into context, methane hydrates may contain anywhere from 50% more to 15 times more natural gas than all global shale gas deposits combined.
Of course, just as with shale gas, not all of this potential energy resource will prove technically recoverable. Yet if (or should we say when?) technology to commercially extract gas from hydrates is developed, the implications for global energy markets are staggering nonetheless.
“The commercialization of methane hydrate would result in a new natural gas revolution, even larger than the so-called shale gas revolution now underway,” said Christopher Knittel, a professor of energy economics at the Massachussets Institute of Technology, in an email statement to TheEnergyCollective.com.