Offshore drilling begins for methane hydrate


Japan began preparatory drilling Wednesday for seabed methane hydrate in the Pacific Ocean off Aichi Prefecture after a one-day delay, officials of Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. said.

A deep-sea drilling vessel from another government-affiliated organization, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, started drilling in waters about 1,000 meters deep some 70 to 80 km south of the Atsumi Peninsula, the officials said.

If successful, it would be the world’s first seabed output of methane hydrate, a possible new source of energy for Japan.

The corporation, which is engaged in exploring and developing resources including oil, natural gas and metals, plans to conduct seabed methane hydrate production tests from January to March 2013.

The Tokyo-based firm originally planned to launch the drilling by 9 a.m. Tuesday, but preparations for the work were delayed by bad weather and device operation checks, the officials said.

The vessel Chikyu, which means Earth, will dig about 260 meters or more below the seabed and set up four wells by around late March.

One of the wells will be used for methane hydrate production tests and the others will be used to monitor possible changes in the environment resulting from the project, such as temperature variations.

Methane hydrate, a sherbetlike substance consisting of methane gas trapped in ice below the seabed or permanently frozen ground, is viewed as a promising new energy source.

Methane hydrate deposits beneath south central Japan are estimated at around 1 trillion cu. meters, equivalent to more than 10 years of Japan’s consumption of natural gas.