A March 12, 2013 story in the New York Times reports that Japan has managed to extract methane from a layer of methane hydrate in an area 50 miles south of the Atsumi Peninsula in central Japan. The feat may well be a game changer for Japan, a country that has been obliged to import the vast majority of its energy. Since the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Japan has been keen to develop alternate sources of energy.
If Japan can overcome the technical challenges of extracting methane hydrate on a production scale, it will be able to replace between 10 and 100 years of natural gas imports. The problems are daunting, including subsidence that can sometimes occur when methane hydrate is extracted, resulting in sub ocean earthquakes. Methane’s status as a greenhouse gas is also of great concern.
Methane hydrate is formed below the ocean floor when organic matter is compressed and chilled into a kind of frozen methane. Methane hydrate is sometimes called the “ice that burns.”
Efforts to develop methane hydrate constitute a story thread in the revival of the television series “Dallas,” featuring the trials and travails of fictional Texas oil family, the Ewings.