The New Prize: Asia’s
Image Credit: Wikicommons

The New Prize: Asia’s "Fire Ice" Gas Revolution


Every few decades a new energy source comes online and promises to revolutionize the way the world fuels its economies. This was true of the shift from coal and whale oil to conventional oil in the 19th and early 20th century. Then, in the 1960s and 70s came the nuclear power revolution soon followed by renewable energies –hydro, solar and wind power. The most recent and much talked about promise comes from shale gas, which threatens to drastically change global geopolitics. But that’s old news. Tomorrow’s energy revolution, many believe, will be “fire ice,” otherwise known as methane hydrates.

In March of this year, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) successfully extracted methane hydrates from offshore reservoirs. This new potential source of energy, a natural gas, could free up traditionally energy-poor countries such as Japan and South Korea, and has the potential to further sink established petro-powers, which are already threatened by cheaper LNG prices through the entry of shale gas on the market. Under JOGMEC’s program, Japan has set an ambitious target of commercial production of methane hydrates by 2018.

Methane hydrates are gas molecules trapped in ice. They occur in permafrost, on the slopes of continental plates and in the seabed usually at a depth greater than 1,600 feet (500 meters). As a result, the Arctic and the coastlines of every continent are dotted with gas reservoirs. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates there could be up to 100,000 trillion cubic feet of gas hydrates globally. While only a portion of that impressive figure is currently considered to be concentrated enough to allow for commercially viable quantities, it is a figure that dwarfs estimates of conventional gas.

A few problems have stemmed the hype. Similar to the development of other unconventional energies, the technology has not yet allowed for commercial viability of extraction– production is currently too expensive and uncompetitive. Further, converting methane hydrate from its naturally-occurring solid form, trapped in ice, into an easily extracted gas is technically difficult.

Yet the technology is slowly catching up and deep seabed mining programs are quickly becoming a new frontier for extraction of minerals and unconventional hydrocarbons. As technology progresses, deep seabed mining could provide many Asian states with the much prized energy and resource security they have long sought. Such technological advances are crucial as an estimated 99 percent of the world’s gas hydrates occur in marine sediment in the seabed.

In a world first, JOGMEC cracked one part of the problem wide open in March. The corporation successfully extracted methane hydrates from the seabed off the Japanese coast. The extraction, which took place 50 miles (80 km)from the Atsumi Peninsula and at a depth of 1,000 feet (300 meters), decreased the pressure of the methane hydrate allowing for the separation of the ice and methane, leaving a gas that could then be extracted.

350 Org Member
May 18, 2013 at 04:12

Global warming has been debunked? Please educate us…where can one learn about this?

May 17, 2013 at 18:02

Dear Arne,

it's a bit easy accusing anyone who says something about the environment of being a green tree hugging hippie that supports Al Gore and the WWF, don't you think? Some sensible awareness is not out of place when it comes to fossil fuels.

Also, I don't know what age of information you've been living in but you seem to have missed quite the bulk of scientific evidence linking more unpredictable and extreme weather (which entails more than cyclones and hurricanes) to the current changes in the climate. There is also quite a consensus that these are human induced.Nobel peace prize winners have established links between the two. And the International Energy Agency has already calculated that 2/3 of untapped fossil fuels must remain under ground to avoid the worst of effects.

I don't know about you, but I don't think they got their information from Al Gore.

So maybe keep your mind open and your information less selective next time

[...] approved, that new surge of oil into the market—coupled with the fracking boom and a massive, newly identified source of methane “trapped” in ocean seabeds called “fire ice”—will amplify Khalid Al-Falih’s [...]

May 15, 2013 at 08:11

[...] approved, that new surge of oil into the market—coupled with the fracking boom and a massive, newly identified source of methane “trapped” in ocean seabeds called “fire ice”—will amplify Khalid Al-Falih’s [...]

[...] approved, that new surge of oil into the market—coupled with the fracking boom and a massive, newly identified source of methane “trapped” in ocean seabeds called “fire ice”—will amplify Khalid Al-Falih’s [...]

kiwi asian
May 14, 2013 at 18:49

In terms of geopolitics the methane hydrates are a positive step in reducing over-reliance. Being able to hedge across more sources is surely nothing but good for stability. The caveat of course is that resources found near marine borders have risk of becoming a flash point. 

In chemical terms, all fossil fuels are renewable if the rate of use does not exceed the rate of decomposition of biological material and formation of the compounds.  It is known of course that the rate at which they are depleted far exceed the rate of production. So in practicable terms, investing in renewables( high frequency e.g. hydro, solar, geo-thermal, tidal, minimal risk nuclear) are smart moves.

The ones who are quick to dismiss climate change as a band wagon lack understanding of systems engineering, ecology and science in general. What is important is to measure the total economic/environmental cost of  methane production from fire-ice including the impact on other marine resources such as micro-organisms, fish, sea water. We do not want to increase the risk of marine food scarsity already under substantial pressure. The rigs and tankers that are required to extract fire-ice will be run off oil for the major part and require large amounts of steel and light metals in order to construct and run. Therefore these underwater resources are neither independant nor replacing conventional sources.

Given the geopolitical reality of energy risk, fire-ice is a welcome addition to any nations energy portfolio.

[...] approved, that new surge of oil into the market—coupled with the fracking boom and a massive, newly identified source of methane “trapped” in ocean seabeds called “fire ice”—will amplify Khalid Al-Falih’s [...]

[...] Read Here – The Diplomat [...]

John Daley
May 13, 2013 at 01:53

Wind and solar have been very good to politically connected investors on both sides of the Atlantic and Pacific. In practical terms, however, they continue to be a bust for the average power consumer and citizen. Denmark and Germany enjoy the highest power costs, and costs continue upward for the germanic greens.

May 13, 2013 at 00:50

Recent advances in hydrogen generation techniques using off-peak nuclear power station heat and electricity, along with significant investment in new generations of nuclear power plants will solve both our needs for immense electric power and transportaion fuel, while drastically cutting C02 emmission.  As we will have 10 BILLION humans inhabiting the globe by 2150, we cannot meet their power demands for first-world lifestyles with wind and solar.  Environmentalists call for elimination of the 95% of electric generating capacity currently provided by fosil fuel and nuclear, while ignoring the tripling in demand for power that will occur with the simultaneous increase in population from 7 Billion to 10 Billion humans along with the increasing demands for high-energy first-world lifestyles from these new folks.  The math just does not work without massive investment in nuclear/hydrogen technology.

John B
May 12, 2013 at 07:11

What a lot of nonsense. If renewables are only marginally cheaper then we should stop all the subsidy handed over to big companies and landowners which is being stolen from the pockets of pensioners and the least well off in our society then. However that is not even the biggest problem with most renewables. Wind and solar are unrelaible and therefore can never be suitable as base load power and therefore require backup from conventional power stations at huge additional cost. Neither of these technologies have any future.

Arne Eson
May 12, 2013 at 04:39

@ Nick Schaefer

Please, now where did you get you rinformation, straight from Al Gore?

It is clear fron scientific data that ther e is no growing trend in US huricanes (except in news headlines). Pls read IPCC specisl report on etrem weather: " there is low confidence in any observed long-term increase in tropical cyclone activity (i.e. intencity, frequency, duration)..".

And Bangladesh… has been inundated since beginning of time, its flat low lands exposed to sea and storms.

Sorry Nick, extreme weather is nothing now. Please don't donate more money to Al Gore WWF or the others. The are not Gods that can change the weather. 

May 11, 2013 at 13:52

Still riding the Global Warming/Climate Change bandwagon are we now. This bogus "science" has been thoroughly debunked. Fossil fuel consumption will be with us for quite a long time. I believe the way forward though is through Thorium nuclear reactors and/or Low Energy Nuclear Reactors (LENR).

Nick Schaefer
May 11, 2013 at 01:43

This is horrible news.

We have too much CO2 and Green House Gases released already.

The world needs to reduce CO2 and GHG release by 90% in order to survive in a similar environment and population density as we have today.

Renewable energy is today minimally more expensive than the marginal cost-producers of fossil fuel.

If the fossil producers had to pay for their enormous global disaster, their cost base would increase by at least USD 100/barrel, or at least USD 500 to 1000 per tCO2.

This tax will come, make no mistake. Already today massive inundations in Bangladesh and Hurricanes in the US have shown the results of the climate change.

A smart investor will no longer put his bets on marginal fossil fuel.

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