An Energy Coup for Japan: ‘Flammable Ice’

There's good news and bad news. If methane extraction from undersea hydrates became commercial, the methane wouldn't just melt and end up in the air as the planet warms. On the other hand since there's twice as much much carbon in them as all of Earth's fossil fuel reserves, we'd raise the CO2 levels even faster and higher than we already are.

TOKYO — Japan said Tuesday that it had extracted gas from offshore deposits of methane hydrate — sometimes called “flammable ice” — a breakthrough that officials and experts said could be a step toward tapping a promising but still little-understood energy source.

The gas, whose extraction from the undersea hydrate reservoir was thought to be a world first, could provide an alternative source of energy to known oil and gas reserves.

Experts estimate that the carbon found in gas hydrates worldwide totals at least twice the amount of carbon in all of the earth’s other fossil fuels, making it a potential game-changer for energy-poor countries like Japan. Researchers had previously successfully extracted gas from on-shore methane hydrate reservoirs, but not from beneath the seabed, where much of the world’s deposits are thought to lie.

Tags: methane extraction

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Japan's 'frozen gas' is worthless if we take climate change seriously

George Monbiont calls it "climate breakdown" instead of "climate change". You'd think the Japanese would want to avoid rising seas, more intense storms, and an acidified ocean with fish being replaced by jellyfish. Their culture has always been close to the sea. Yet here Japan is, acting like a teenager choosing to smoke cigarettes because he can't imaging getting lung cancer or emphysema.

We have already discovered far more carbon than we can afford to burn, if we are not to commit the world to very dangerous levels of heating. Only if most of it – four-fifths according to a detailed estimate – is left where it sits is there a good chance of preventing more than 2C of global warming.

Far from agreeing to leave existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground, governments and corporations are spending hundreds of billions prospecting for new reserves, and finding ways to extract ever more exotic forms of buried carbon. Every time they succeed, press reports gush like a Texan oil well in the 1920s.

This mindless enthusiasm has now greeted the Japanese government's announcement that it has successfully extracted natural gas from methane hydrates (otherwise known as clathrates) buried under the bed of the sea.

Only a small proportion of this resource is exploitable: even so, that small proportion could greatly augment the volume of fossil fuel reserves we cannot afford to burn. If governments intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions, there would be no point in developing this new source of fuel. Their attempts to exploit it reinforce the perception that they have no intention of preventing climate breakdown. [emphasis mine]

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