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Has Japan Doomed the Planet by Starting to Extract Methane Hydrates?

The state-owned Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals National Corporation, has just recently become the first company in the world to successfully extract natural gas from methane hydrate deposits trapped beneath the ocean floor.

The field in which the production tests have taken place is believed to hold enough methane hydrate to meet Japan’s needs for 11 years. The total volume of hydrates in the waters around Japan would supply 100 year’s worth of demand, according to the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. In methane hydrates are estimated to be so abundant throughout the entire world, that extracting them would mean that fossil fuels would not run out for several centuries.

The 2012 Global Energy Assessment (GEA) was a study that looked into the potential of methane hydrates, describing them as “a solid crystalline substance composed of water and natural gas (primarily methane) in which water molecules form a cage-like structure around the gas molecules.

Related article: Algeria: Leveling the Playing Field for Shale Gas Exploration

The cage structure of the hydrate molecule concentrates the component gas so that a single cubic metre of gas hydrate will yield approximately 160 cubic metres of gas and 0.8 cubic metres of water.”

Whilst the idea of a massively abundant new fuel source seems like an exciting idea on the face of it, the greenhouse gases that extracting it and burning it could release could doom the planet. Methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that mass releases of methane gas trapped beneath the ocean floor “appears to have occurred in connection with rapid warming episodes in the Earth's history.”

By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com

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  • Norm R on March 16 2013 said:
    Yes there was a methane release (naturally caused by an estimated 5 degree C increase in ocean temperatures) 265 million years ago that lead to the Permian extinction. This was the largest known extinction event in world history, bigger than the extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. In some sense ocean bottoms are a very large can of pop with a top screwed on tight. Perhaps if the Japanese disturb the methane bed it will set off a chain reaction of methane explosions, especially in conjunction with the warming that the world's oceans have experienced. We should not mess with this until we understand it a lot better.

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