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The New Prize: Asia’s "Fire Ice" Gas Revolution (Page 2 of 3)

But, while Japan is the first to successfully extract methane hydrates, it isn’t the only country studying them. China, Norway, Russia, New Zealand, Germany, Brazil, Chile, South Korea, Canada, India and the U.S. have all started their own research programs. Collaboration has been the order of the day and has been spearheaded by agreements between the U.S., Canada, Japan, and South Korea.

Successful commercial extraction of methane hydrates could mean big changes in Asia. For Japan it could usher in long sought after energy security – a catalyst for Tokyo’s involvement in World War Two, argues Daniel Yergin, a leading energy analyst.

For Japan, its mid- to long-term effect, if commercial extraction does in fact begin in 2018, could be to stabilize the country’s energy sources. Since the Fukushima Daichi nuclear incident, Japan has been struggling to meet its energy demands. The country’s energy security has been crippled by political debates over the future of its 54 nuclear power plants, a debate that forced all but two reactors to go offline in 2012. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster in 2011, Japan became world’s largest LNG importer and the third largest net importer of oil. Not surprisingly, the dependence on imports and the crippling energy debates have held back Japan’s economy, which is otherwise buttressed by a low yen.

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But it’s not just Japan that stands to win big if the gas can be made commercially viable. India, which currently imports the lion’s share of its oil and increasing quantities of coal and natural gas, has some of the world’s largest known deposits of gas hydrates. As India’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas prepares to release the country’s new shale gas policy, methane hydrates offer yet another potential source of production.

India started its methane hydrates research program in 1997. Yet many Indian commentators are increasingly vocal that it hasn’t reaped the same successes as Japan. A 2006 U.S.-India joint venture explored large deposits around the country in the Krishna-Godavari basin, the Mahanadi basin, the Kerala-Konkan basin and the waters off the Andaman Islands. The study found the Krishna-Godavari basin to be one of the largest known gas hydrate-occurring areas in the world. Despite these findings, one of the key problems is that extraction of India’s gas resources will require different technology and more extensive research than was required for JOGMEC’s success in Japan. India will not simply be able to purchase the technology from Japan. Instead New Delhi will need to develop or adapt technology to India’s specific geology.

In 2006, Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and managing director of Reliance, a leading Indian energy company, called for a new holistic energy policy, which would include gas hydrates.

“The reserves of gas hydrates are mind boggling…These are estimated at twice the known oil and gas reserves of the world. But, again, the technological challenges are intimidating,” he said at the time. While some advances have been made, formulating any policy in India’s spider web of bureaucratic red-tape – as has been seen with the continually delayed shale gas policy – is a time consuming affair.

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