Tokyo: Japan on Tuesday said it had successfully extracted natural gas from methane hydrate deposits under the sea, in the first example of production of the gas offshore.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry showed what it said was gas flaming from a pipe at the project in the Pacific Ocean, 80km off the coast of central Japan.
The breakthrough could be a step toward eventual commercial production, though the costs of extracting gas from the seabed are much higher than for other forms of production.
Methane hydrate is a form of methane gas frozen below the seabed or in permanently frozen ground. Japan has successfully produced such gas from permafrost in Canada in 2007-2008.
Resource-scarce Japan, which imports most of its energy, is looking to produce natural gas from its own reserves.
The Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. And a government research institute, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, used a technology they developed to reduce pressure in the underground layers holding the methane hydrate 1,330m below the sea surface, and then dissolved it into gas and water, collecting the gas through a well, the ministry said.
Methane hydrate looks like ice but burns like a candle if a match warms its molecules.
With the boom in production of natural gas from hydraulic fracturing boosting supplies, there is little need to resort to more costly extraction of the frozen gas. But it is considered a future potential resource, and studies show substantial reserves in various regions, in Asia and the Americas.