Necessity spurs innovation, as Vince Beiser’s recent piece on fossil fuels reminded us last week and Japan demonstrates that anew this week. The energy-poor nation has become the first to successfully tap the frozen natural gas, known as methane hydrate, scattered on the oceans’ seabed.
Since it started seriously studying how to harvest methane hydrates almost two decades ago, Japan has been a leader in the field, as Bruce Dorminey, who wrote about hydrates for us a year ago exactly, explained.
While the Japanese have been looking at hydrates in the permafrost of Canada, shale fracking has meant the economics of either land- or sea-based extraction haven’t made sense domestically in North America—so far. That was once true for Japan, too. As that country’s Ryo Minam of the Agency for Natural Resources told the Financial Times: "Ten years ago, everybody knew there was shale gas in the ground, but to extract it was too costly. Yet now it's commercialized."
So, as Dorminey closed his primer on hydrates:
Couple its clean-burning potential with the fact that it’s so ubiquitous, and it’s arguably enough to give gas hydrate energy a hard second look. Some estimates put the global amount of gas hydrates at as much as 43,000 trillion cubic feet in sandstone reservoirs alone. Even if only half of that is recoverable, [consulting geologist Arthur] Johnson says that they could still represent a significant global energy reserve for well over a century.