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A Song of Ice and Fire
Japan Strikes It Rich (Again) with Offshore Gas

Japan announced this week that it’s successfully tapping so-called “fire ice” for the second time. It’s been a few years since we’ve heard anything about the country’s quest to find and extract natural gas from methane hydrates along the sea floor, but that lack of news hasn’t been for lack of trying, and we’re now learning that a gas is flowing from a second exploratory well off Japan’s coast. The FT reports:

The Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation said it was flaring gas from the drillship Chikyu after methane began to flow from its test well in the Nankai Trough, off the coast of Mie prefecture in central Japan.

It marks Japan’s first experiment with methane hydrates since its initial, partially successful test sent a tremor through the global energy industry in 2013.

If the test well meets its goal and keeps the gas flowing for four weeks, it would be a big step towards the technical viability of extracting giant reservoirs of gas trapped in ice crystals below permafrost at the bottom of the world’s oceans.

There’s a lot of gas trapped in those “ice cages” of the methane hydrates, enough to equal at least 10 years of the country’s current domestic gas production. That’s great news for Japan, which has to rely on imports for most of its energy needs, a fact that is as unwanted for geopolitical reasons as it is for economic ones.

There’s another interesting twist to this story. Methane hydrates are one of the most feared unknowns in climate science. Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas (though it dissipates more quickly than CO2), and there is concern that as surface temperatures rise and oceans warm, the ice lattice structures trapping all of that methane on our planet’s sea floors will melt, eventually leading to a large spike in atmospheric methane (and more warming). If we’re able to extract that methane first, though, we’ll not only be accessing new reserves of the most climate friendly fossil fuel around, we could also be staving off a grim positive feedback loop.

Japan’s experience will be watched closely here in the United States not only because of our interest in our ally’s energy security, but also because large reserves of these underwater gas deposits can be found off America’s Atlantic coast. The 21st century can already be characterized as a time of energy abundance (thank you shale), but this “fire ice” could keep the good times going.

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  • Gary Hemminger

    Since the Earth has been much warmer and much cooler than it has now, don’t you think the dangerous melting of the methane would have already occured at least once? And that there would be some record of the Armageddon it must have caused? The fact that we don’t is probably testament to the fact that it isn’t possible.

    But be that as it may, I just want one Armageddon scenario that the climate change/global warming zealots say is going to happen to actually happen. I want one island in the south pacific to go underwater and all people are killed or have to be relocated. I want one dangerous warming scenario to cause mass deaths. I want one antarctic ice sheet to dangerous crack off and cause the worlds oceans to rise a foot. I want one city on the Eastern seaboard to have to be abandoned because of rising water.

    Can we just please have one Armageddon scenario actually happen, because right now the score is Armageddon scenarios proposed
    = 100,000 and Armageddons that have actually happened = 0. Does anyone actually notice that not one of these armageddon’s actually comes to pass. My god, wake up folks. These people are playing you for fools. Our own Governor Moonbeam here in CA says we are in permanent drought because of global warming, and less than 6 months later we have record rainfall Does anyone not call him or the press out for this? When are we finally going to start calling these doomsayers out for the idiots they actually are?

    • D4x

      The elites rule through fearmongering. The fear of nuclear winter was replaced by the new fear of global warming, now climate change. During the Bush43 years, that fear became the opposition, because of Gore. Now that fear is the neoDem Party Platform.

      New pandemics are used as fill-in fearmongering.

  • Gary Hemminger

    And by the way, did anyone hear that Stephen Hawking is now saying that we have 100 years to find another planet to live on or we will be going extinct? Can you say whacko? The guy is loony tunes. No one in the press even has an ounce of gumption to tell people that this guy is completely whacko. We have the same thing with Governor Brown. He is a compete whacko nutjob that says we are all doomed because of global warming unless we (not him of course) stop using fossil fuels. Our elite leaders are all complete whack jobs. Do they really believe this stuff they are telling us?

    • ——————————

      I had heard that.
      I guess he has some t.v. show coming up about it.

      Can you say Malthusian?…..

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    It’s like peak oil is a fantasy of the “Global Warming” Chicken Little’s.

  • Che Guevara

    Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas (though it dissipates more quickly than CO2), and there is concern that as surface temperatures rise and oceans warm, the ice lattice structures trapping all of that methane on our planet’s sea floors will melt, eventually leading to a large spike in atmospheric methane (and more warming).

    Wait! You’re admitting that the Earth is actually warming, and that it’s a concern? Hasn’t Fox News debunked global warming as a hoax?

    • Isaiah601

      It hasn’t warmed in a while according to satellite measurements. California is also no longer experiencing drought. It appears the fear mongering rhetoric has not actually come to pass. Schedules Armageddon has been postponed. Again.

      • Che Guevara

        Keep the faith, brother.

        • Isaiah601

          Never even thought about losing it.

    • Angel Martin
      • Che Guevara

        Debating scientific theories requires providing sources. Where is this chart from? Is this chart from a paper that you published? Have you ever actually published anything in peer-reviewed scientific journals?

        • Angel Martin

          Wikipedia sources where things come from. Since you are such a “scientist” why don’t you look it up yourself ?

          • Che Guevara

            Spoken like a true scholar and gentleman.

          • Angel Martin

            Admirers of Che Guevara don’t qualify for any of the social graces.

  • D4x

    Breakthrough in understanding methane hydrates: contributes to global cooling!? real science, from Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, May 2, 2017: Abstract: “Methane released from the seafloor and transported to the atmosphere has the potential to amplify global warming. At an arctic site characterized by high methane flux from the seafloor, we measured methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange across the sea−air interface. We found that CO2 uptake in an area of elevated methane efflux was enhanced relative to surrounding waters, such that the negative radiative forcing effect (cooling) resulting from CO2 uptake overwhelmed the positive radiative forcing effect (warming) supported by methane output. Our work suggests physical mechanisms (e.g., upwelling) that transport methane to the surface may also transport nutrient-enriched water that supports enhanced primary production and CO2 drawdown. These areas of methane seepage may be net greenhouse gas sinks. ”

    http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/05/02/1618926114

    Way too much news in 2017. How did that happen?

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