Saturday, November 01, 2014

methane hydrate block.jpg

A methane hydrate block brought up on Feb. 13, 2013, originally embedded in the sediment of a hydrate ridge off of the coast of Oregon at a depth of about 1,200 meters. (Photo by Wusel007 via Wikimedia Commons)
A methane hydrate block brought up on Feb. 13, 2013, originally embedded in the sediment of a hydrate ridge off of the coast of Oregon at a depth of about 1,200 meters. (Photo by Wusel007 via Wikimedia Commons)
2 May 2014

Worries are mounting that methane hydrate, touted as a dream energy source, could spark a new energy war in Asia.

U.S.-based magazine “Foreign Policy” recently pointed out that, “The fact that a bulk of methane hydrate is buried under the center of Asia’s territorial dispute is a big misfortune for the surrounding nations,” meaning that the new energy source turns out to be a new factor that could exacerbate territorial conflicts among major energy-importing countries like Korea, China, and Japan.

Methane hydrate is a solid crystal in the form of ice that is formed when water and gas meet at high pressure and low temperature. It is compressed gas, which in gaseous form would be 160-170 times that of its solid mass, making it an ideal future energy source.

However, some data points to a rosier outlook in that its massive burial, up to 700,000 trillion cubic feet, is distributed evenly all around the world, dispelling concerns about the possible international dispute.

A burning chunk of methane hydrate gives off a substantial amount of energy. Inlay: The atomic structure of the methane hydrate (or clathrate) lattice.A burning chunk of methane hydrate gives off a substantial amount of energy. Inlay: The atomic structure of the methane hydrate (or clathrate) lattice.

However, the energy source, nicknamed fire ice, could fuel the conflict especially in Asia.

This is because Korea, China, and Japan top the list of countries that import the greatest amount of energy sources. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), as of 2012 China is the number 2 crude oil importer, followed by number 3 Japan and number 5 Korea. In natural gas imports, Japan and Korea top the list as numbers 1 and 2.

​The 3 energy consumption giants are trying to be less dependent on energy imports by actively mining methane hydrate, but the big three and even other South East Asian countries are entangled in a territorial dispute.

As for the major methane hydrate deposit sites, experts cite the Senkaku Islands, the southern part of the South China Sea, and the East Sea as the epicenter of intense territorial tension.

In fact, according to the Nihon Keizai newspaper, China’s marine department and geological survey department launched a full-fledged methane hydrate energy probe last month in the South China Sea, causing a big backlash from territorial disputing countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Chinese government is set on reinforcing the probe and research system to commercialize the energy source by 2030.

The Japanese media quoted a Chinese expert as saying that the methane hydrate burial amount in the South China Sea is estimated to be enough to sustain China for the next 130 years.

Japan also joined in by sending its probe vessel to the East Sea at the beginning of April.

It has been already confirmed that the methane hydrate that is buried under the East Sea, near Dokdo Island, could feed Korea for 200 years.

Experts predict that it will take 10-20 years for methane hydrate to be commercialized. However, on the back of Japan’s success in the first mining of the energy source at the beginning of last year, its commercial viability is looming closer on the horizon.

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