Japan Launches Feasibility Study On Methane Hydrate Project

The Japanese government has launched a feasibility study on a project to commercially produce methane hydrate, after conducting offshore appraisal drilling in January through May this year.

A government-led consortium plans by 2011 to determine whether it can go ahead with the project to commercially explore and produce methane hydrate, a consortium official said Wednesday.

For energy-poor Japan, methane hydrate, a sorbet-like frozen methane gas located 200-500 meters below the seabed offshore Japan, is a highly prioritized energy source that the country wants to develop. The new fuel could lessen the nation's heavy dependence on foreign energy sources.

The consortium - the Research Consortium For Methane Hydrate Resources, or MH21 Research Consortium - will seek to develop technical and economical drilling methods for the production of methane hydrate over the next seven years to 2011.

"In the 2012-2016 period, we will hopefully move to the next phase and prepare to start commercial production," said the official.

The consortium spent about Y4.5 billion on appraisal drilling at 16 points off Shizuoka and Mie prefectures in central Japan, using a U.S.-manufactured rig.

"Data collected through the drilling early this year will be used for our feasibility study," the official added.

The consortium isn't ready to provide its official estimates of methane hydrate reserves offshore Japan, but some experts believe they may total roughly 7 trillion cubic meters, which is equivalent to Japan's natural gas consumption for 100 years.