This is all really rather amusing.
Japan is celebrating a groundbreaking science experiment in the Arctic permafrost that may eventually reshape the country\’s fragile economy and Tokyo\’s relationships with the outside world.
For an unprecedented six straight days, a state-backed drilling company has managed to extract industrial quantities of natural gas from underground sources of methane hydrate – a form of gas-rich ice once thought to exist only on the moons of Saturn.
In fact, the seabeds around the Japanese coast turn out to conceal massive deposits of the elusive sorbet-like compound in their depths, and a country that has long assumed it had virtually no fossil fuels could now be sitting on energy reserves containing 100 years\’ fuel. Critically for Japan, which imports 99.7 per cent of the oil, gas and coal needed to run its vast economy, the lumps of energy-filled ice offer the tantalising promise of a little energy independence.
Environmentalists, though, are horrified by the idea of releasing huge quantities of methane from under the seabeds. Although methane is a cleaner-burning fossil fuel than coal or oil, the as yet untapped methane hydrates represent “captured” greenhouse gasses that some believe should remain locked under the sea. The mining of methane ice could also wreak havoc on marine ecosystems.
First, we\’ve got the obvious economic point which so many try to ignore. High prices for the current fossil fuels will lead to people developing substitutes. As, indeed, they are.
The second is this idea that these methane hydrates should not be used: they are carbon locked away and we should keep it that way. The only problem we have here is that in some of the wilder feedback scenarios about climate change posit that warming happens to such an extent that the methane is released naturally.
So, really rather better that we dig it up and convert it to CO2 (one 23rd of a warming gas than methane) before that happens, don\’t you think?