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In its continuing effort to burn every flammable thing on this planet to meet the energy demands of industrial civilization, Homo sapiens has successfully extracted natural gas from deep-sea methane hydrates in the Sea of Japan. The New York Times reported the good news in An Energy Coup For Japan: ‘Flammable Ice’ (March 12, 2013).

TOKYO — Japan said Tuesday that it had extracted gas from offshore deposits of methane hydrate — sometimes called “flammable ice” — a breakthrough that officials and experts said could be a step toward tapping a promising but still little-understood energy source.

The gas, whose extraction from the undersea hydrate reservoir was thought to be a world first, could provide an alternative source of energy to known oil and gas reserves. That could be crucial especially for Japan, which is the world’s biggest importer of liquefied natural gas and is engaged in a public debate about whether to resume the country’s heavy reliance on nuclear power.

Experts estimate that the carbon found in gas hydrates worldwide totals at least twice the amount of carbon in all of the earth’s other fossil fuels, making it a potential game-changer for energy-poor countries like Japan. Researchers had already successfully extracted gas from onshore methane hydrate reservoirs, but not from beneath the seabed, where much of the world’s deposits are thought to lie.

As I’ve often pointed out on this blog, the typical Environmentalist is anti-nuclear and anti-fossil fuels, but pro-industrial civilization and pro-economic growth.

Have Cake, and Eat It Too

This point became even clearer this week. We need to understand why Japan felt compelled to exploit deep-sea methane resources.

The exact properties of undersea hydrates and how they might affect the environment are still poorly understood, given that methane is a greenhouse gas. Japan has invested hundreds of millions of dollars since the early 2000s to explore offshore methane hydrate reserves in both the Pacific and the Sea of Japan.

That task has become all the more pressing after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis, which has all but halted Japan’s nuclear energy program and caused a sharp increase in the country’s fossil fuel imports. Japan’s rising energy bill has weighed heavily on its economy, helping to push it to a trade deficit and reducing the benefits of the recently weaker yen to Japanese exporters.

Technological cleverness über alles.

“Japan could finally have an energy source to call its own,” said Takami Kawamoto, a spokesman for the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, or Jogmec, the state-run company leading the trial extraction.

The team will continue the trial extraction for about two weeks before analyzing how much gas has been produced, Jogmec said. Japan hopes to make the extraction technology commercially viable in about five years.

“This is the world’s first trial production of gas from oceanic methane hydrates, and I hope we will be able to confirm stable gas production,” Toshimitsu Motegi, the Japanese trade minister, said at a news conference in Tokyo. He acknowledged that the extraction process would still face technical hurdles and other problems.

The next paragraph in the Times story should stand alone.

Still, “shale gas was considered technologically difficult to extract but is now produced on a large scale,” he said. “By tackling these challenges one by one, we could soon start tapping the resources that surround Japan.”

I used to laugh about humans exploiting deep-sea methane hydrates because I thought that possibility extremely unlikely. Well, I don’t laugh anymore. Here’s what I said about my past error in judgment in U.S. Oil Production Tops 7 Million Barrels Per Day.

They say confession is good for the soul, so let’s try it out. What was my mistake?

In this case, I completely underestimated just effective humans can be in extracting a natural resource (crude oil) they desperately need. I confess—I missed the boat here. Mea culpa. It’s a mistake I won’t make twice.

And as I look back on my mistake, I see just how foolish I was to underestimate humans in the one type of behavior where they excel—technological cleverness.

No, I won’t make that mistake twice. I was not surprised by this methane hydrates story, and won’t be surprised by future developments along those lines. In that post, I reasserted my view that there are real constraints on future crude oil production.

However, as far as I can see, these constraints do not apply to natural gas, which is mostly methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas when released directly into the atmosphere (and not burned, as with almost all commercial gas). At least, there are no such constraints in any timeframe which matters.

Natural gas has long been viewed as a “bridge fuel” linking the fossil fuel world of the past (coal & oil) with the clean, renewables world of the future (solar, wind, batteries).

Natural gas is indeed a bridge fuel — it forms the superstructure of the bridge to climate Hell.

Have a nice weekend.

Posted at 09:22 AM | Permalink

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suffering resources bottleneck will be postponed, climate hell here we come

Posted by: Ben | 03/15/2013 at 09:45 AM

“…the bridge to climate Hell”

be seeing you…

Posted by: Diogenes | 03/15/2013 at 10:05 AM

We humans are brilliantly and determinedly bent on destroying ourselves and everything around us. There seems to be no end to the ways we are capable of accelerating the process.

Posted by: Fran Joseph | 03/15/2013 at 10:35 AM

Just like people believe that it our destiny to have perpetual economic growth, it is also ok to continue to burn fossil fuels (‘temporarily’ of course) as it is our destiny to eventually convert to some clean energy source and live happily ever after.

Posted by: John D | 03/15/2013 at 10:42 AM

oh my goodness, check this out fellas: peter joseph on tytinterviews speaking about the zeitgeist movement http://youtu.be/mhZSxeiziMg

Posted by: Ben | 03/15/2013 at 11:17 AM

Link to the press release in Japan here:

From this site:

Posted by: Jim | 03/15/2013 at 11:52 AM

Pretty soon they will be able to suck it up with a big straw from the surface per Russian reports of giant methane gas bubbles coming up in the Arctic area.

Posted by: Bill McDonald | 03/15/2013 at 12:12 PM

Related, a very informative page from that site is here:

Methane hydrate development and cost-effectiveness

It goes over the technical process and has a rough cost of production analysis in Yen terms. Cost doesn’t seem to be a limiting factor in their analysis (but this is an early analysis, and it’s highly likely they left a lot of other costs out), but it’s very clear by the production process that only a fraction of the reserve could actually be recovered. What’s not mentioned is the amount of methane that would be released into the ocean and atmosphere and not captured from disturbing each site. It seems like it would be significant, because the hydrates are basically in sand much closer to the ocean floor than conventional NG – any uncaptured methane release would be another ‘free’ externality that eventually would have to be paid.

Posted by: Jim | 03/15/2013 at 12:33 PM

Human beings are basically all convenience and energy junkies. Once exposed, for any significant time frame, to the conveniences resulting from the surplus energy provided by fossil fuels, they cannot and will not cut back.

Like any junkie, if they are threatened with a reduction in their addiction, they will become increasingly creative, destructive and dangerous.

As humans are threatened with fossil fuel energy reductions, I fully expect them to burn every last burnable substance they can lay their incredibly creative and destructive hands on. That probability should pretty much tell you all you need to know about the medium to long-term future on planet earth.

Posted by: Brian | 03/15/2013 at 12:40 PM

Whenever I hear about methane hydrates I immediately think of ice-9 in Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.

Posted by: Ian Fraser | 03/16/2013 at 03:10 AM

this is a classic paint yourself into the corner. the stakes are much higher.

Posted by: elvinator | 03/16/2013 at 02:32 PM

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