February 3, 2012 / 9:33 AM / in 6 years

Japan to drill off-shore wells to tap gas hydrates

TOKYO, Feb 3 (Reuters) - State-run Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp (JOGMEC) said on Friday it would start drilling wells off the coast of central Japan from around Feb. 14 ahead of trial methane hydrate production slated for January-March 2013.

Methane is a major component of natural gas and governments including Canada, the United States, Norway and China are also looking at exploiting gas hydrate deposits as an alternative source of energy.

Since 2001, resource-poor Japan has invested several hundred million dollars in developing technology to tap methane hydrate, with the potential to replace some imports of natural gas.

Methane hydrates are believed to be plentiful under the seabed near the country, and Japan hopes to complete development of technology for commercial production by 2018/19.

Methane hydrate, a frozen gas known as “flammable ice”, is formed from a mixture of methane and water at specific pressure and conditions.

A Japanese study has estimated the existence of at least 40 trillion cubic feet (1.1 trillion cubic metres) of methane hydrates in the eastern Nankai Trough off the country’s Pacific coast, equivalent to around 12 years of Japanese gas consumption.

Japan plans to use depressurisation to turn methane hydrate to methane gas, a process thought by the government to be more effective than using the hot water circulation method the country had tested successfully in 2002.

In 2008, JOGMEC successfully demonstrated for the first time a nearly six-day continuous period of production of methane gas from hydrate reserves held deep in permafrost in Canada, using the depressurisation method.

Japan is the world’s top importer of liquefied natural gas and the lure of a sizeable domestic gas resource has become greater since last year’s nuclear crisis triggered a shake-up of the country’s energy sector.

Gas imports have risen after Japan shut down a large number of nuclear power plants after the March 2011 quake and tsunami.

Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by David Fogarty

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