Japanese Specialists First in World to Produce Gas from Methane Hydrates

By Lada Ponomareva, March 13, 2013
Japan became the first country in the world to produce gas from methane hydrates in formations below the floor of the Pacific Ocean, 70 kilometers from the Atsumi peninsula off the eastern coast of Khansu island. Drilling was carried out by the specialized "Chikyu" ship, originally designed for working at depths of up to 2500 meters. But specialized equipment onboard the ship enables it to carry out drilling at up to 7000 meters below the seabed. 
Specialists from Japan's state oil, gas and metals company, JOGMEC, as well as the State Institute for Industrial Technologies, took part in the drilling. According to experts, estimated methane hydrate reserves at the field could satisfy Japan's current demand for natural gas for 14 years. Gas from the first phase of drilling was extracted at a depth of 1.3 kilometers.
According to Japan's Agency of Natural Resources and Energy, industrial production of gas from the field could begin within the next five years. 
"Methane hydrates are highly corrosive and production of gas from methane is difficult, leading to higher risks. As a result, Japan won't be able to significantly increase its gas production volumes in the near-term," Investkafe analyst Yuliya Voitovich says.
Nevertheless, experts in Tokyo hope that production at gas hydrate fields offshore will help solve a number of energy problems facing the country, which lacks onshore energy resources. 
In 2012, Japanese scientists actively studied the Pacific Ocean seabed for methane hydrate formations and carried out several drilling experiments. The first operations involving experimental hydrate production began at the end of January this year. According to results of ultrasound testing, gas hydrate reserves off the coast of Japan could be from 4 to 20 trillion cubic meters, which would satisfy the country's demand for 100 years at current consumption. Several analysts estimate that gas hydrate reserves in the Nagoya region on the Atsumi peninsula could provide Japan with enough resources to satisfy energy demand for the next 10 years. 
Methane hydrate formations belong to the category of challenging  reserves, and today the global oil and gas industry lacks effective technology that would make exploitation of these reserves economical. But specialists at JOGMEC and Japan's Institute of Industrial Technologies believe that their current efforts will enable them to produce gas with maximum efficiency at a reasonable cost. According to JOGMEC press releases, technology used in 2007-2008 during a joint Japanese-Canadian project to extract gas from permafrost in northern Canada will be used for experimental production phase of gas from methane hydrates. 
Methane hydrates are crystalline substances that occur at low temperature and pressure, consisting of a mixture of water and methane molecules and usually located beneath a layer of permafrost or under the ocean floor. Read more about the production of challenging reserves in the March issue of Oil&Gas Eurasia.