Ministry to make second attempt at extracting ‘fiery ice’ off Japan’s east coast


Japan’s Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry will make a second attempt to extract methane hydrate off the coast of Aichi and Mie prefectures as it works to develop the next-generation energy source, officials have said.

The ministry plans to start drilling work as early as this spring, in order to produce natural gas from methane hydrate found under the seafloor by January to March 2017, according to the officials.

In March 2013, Japan successfully extracted methane hydrate, also known as “fiery ice,” for the first time in the world. But it had to end the operation earlier than scheduled due to a problem with equipment.

After some technical improvements, the ministry will carry out the retrial in the hope of securing a stable domestic energy source.

Methane hydrate is a sherbet-like substance made of crystallized methane created in a high-pressure, low-temperature environment. Methane is the chief component of natural gas.

Methane hydrate deposits under the sea off Aichi and Mie prefectures are estimated to be equivalent to a decade’s worth of natural gas consumption by Japan.

If it succeeds in methane hydrate development, the country’s heavy dependency on fossil fuel imports is expected to decline.

The upcoming trial will be carried out some 80 kilometers off the peninsulas of Atsumi and Shima, the same site as the previous trial.

The ministry plans to dig wells several hundred meters under the seafloor. The plan calls for breaking down methane hydrate by decreasing pressure inside the ground in order to obtain methane gas. The gas will be transported above the sea through pipes.

Drilling work is expected to start between April to June this year. The methane production test slated for 2017 is expected to run for a month.

In the previous attempt, a total of 120,000 cubic meters of natural gas was produced. But sand from the soil layer clogged up production equipment, causing the two-week test to end after a week.

To avoid the same problem this time, the ministry is using equipment that will shut out sand, and is also digging a spare well.

A look at the profitability of the methane hydrate extraction will follow the test, with a view to commercialize the technology in 2023 at the earliest.