Methane hydrate, or flammable ice, might be the new direction of energy

JAPAN—With the energy crisis, authorities on the subject worldwide are putting an emphasis on finding new sources of fuel. In an article by BBC, there was a spotlight on sea ice found in the depths of Japan’s ocean. However, this ice is not like something found in a refrigerator dispenser — the substance is called methane hydrate and it is highly flammable.

In 2017, Japan successfully extracted methane hydrate from its ocean floors by drilling into the seabed of Nankai Trough. Research shows that methane hydrate could make up a large percentage of natural resources available, but the process has opened up conversations about farming from the ocean’s floor. What are the environmental factors that should be considered?

Ai Oyama, a former research analyst on the subject, told BBC, “In general, people just feel really scared to do anything to the ocean floor. The place is known to be unstable and earthquakes happen.” There is a fear that by removing methane hydrate, earthquakes may occur and make the entire reserve unstable. Another concern is that the methane gases would seep into the ocean, releasing toxic gas into the environment. Some are even afraid the additional water mixed into the sediment of the ocean floor could cause a tsunami.

These worries have not stopped further tests from being planned. In December, Japanese researchers who have studied methane hydrate as an energy source will will with UC Geographical Survey and the US Department of energy to explore what is hoped to be a long-term test site in regions of Alaska. One of the goals for Japan is energy independence since they import natural gas, but it can be quite costly.

In the long-term, Japan hopes to transition to renewable energy.

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