Japan has become the first country to extract natural gas from methane hydrate under the seabed, opening up a potential source of domestic fuel for the resource-poor nation.
Gas was obtained from a layer 330 meters below a 1,000-meter-deep floor of the Pacific Ocean on March 12, the industry ministry said.
Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. (JOGMEC), commissioned by the ministry, is extracting gas 80 kilometers off Atsumi Peninsula in Aichi Prefecture as part of a test mining operation.
It plans to extract thousands to tens of thousands of cubic meters of gas over the coming two weeks or so.
The industry ministry plans to establish production technology by fiscal 2018 and then begin production.
Currently, it is not possible to extract gas deep under the sea in a reliable, cost-effective manner.
The seas around Japan are estimated to hold enough methane hydrate to produce as much natural gas as Japan consumes in 100 years.
The reserves under the sea off Atsumi Peninsula are believed to equal 11 years' worth of consumption.
Methane hydrate, a sherbet-like methane-water combination known as "burning ice," is often found in Siberian and Alaskan permafrost and under areas of seabed deeper than 500 meters.
JOGMEC started extraction around 6 a.m. on March 12. Gas was extracted around 9:30 a.m., and a flame from burning it was confirmed around 10 a.m.
Water was pumped up to lower the pressure inside the methane hydrate layer and separate the solid material into methane gas and water.
Gas was then brought up to the sea surface through a pipe and was collected by Chikyu, a deep-sea drilling vessel of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology.
JOGMEC drilled a well to the methane hydrate layer and inserted a pipe between February and March 2012 and began final preparations for extracting gas in January.
Imports of liquefied natural gas have been increasing in order to fuel thermal power generation because all but two of Japan's 50 nuclear power reactors remain idle.
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