For Beijing, despite its National Oil Companies being more agile and better financed, it faces a similar problem in that the companies will have to develop an indigenous program for extraction of methane hydrates given the different geology of its deposits.
Much about methane hydrates remains a mystery. Perhaps, as a result, many are concerned about the hidden environmental consequences. Fears remain about the leaking of methane into the atmosphere and potential changes to the seabed. Methane has around 21 times more global warming potential as CO2, meaning it is significantly more damaging to the atmosphere. Underwater landslides have also been cited as a concern. Yet science has learnt from experience and is preempting such concerns. The JOGMEC study includes a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment, with the seven-year second phase of the program focusing on, “environmental risks such as methane leakage and seafloor deformation.”
Increasing natural gas in the global energy mix should decrease reliance on coal, which has twice the amount of carbons and produces significantly more omissions. Currently, Japan is increasing its consumption of coal to cut increasing energy costs, while coal continues to provide over half of India’s energy needs. New natural gas sources, if harnessed, could provide for reduced emissions and lessen the harmful effects of pollution in the country.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
More broadly, the successful harnessing of methane hydrates, could further add weight to the International Energy Agency (IEA), a body which was indirectly set up to counter the influence of the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The IEA is made up of North American, European and other states such as Japan and South Korea. On the back of increased LNG supplies from shale gas, and with the potential increases from methane hydrates, the IEA may have the energy resources to compete and pressure OPEC.
Harnessing methane hydrates would mean that Japan, and possibly South Korea, could play a bigger role in the IEA. This could have a hugely positive influence, in that it could pressure responsible action and stabilize supplies, or it could have the opposite effect, pitting the two blocs against each other. For India and China, neither of whom are members of OPEC or the IEA, they could stand to benefit from such competition.
But that is a debate more suited for the future. Reducing the extraction cost of methane hydrates is crucial to its future viability as an energy source – a technological hurdle that shale gas has recently overcome. The recent success of JOGMEC is significant and could yet be another “game changer.” Indeed, if commercial extraction of methane hydrates can be achieved in the coming five to ten years, we may see a very different energy map in Asia, which could in turn transform Asia’s interaction with the world.
Elliot Brennan is Project Coordinator at the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm, Sweden, and a Non-Resident WSD-Handa Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Honolulu, USA.