Japan turns to natural gas to meet energy needs
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Japan turns to natural gas to meet energy needs

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Japan's growing energy demands and decreasing supply have forced the country to look towards natural gas as an energy option. Picture: Flikr

Japan has begun its search for a new potential fuel source – and the demand has the potential to re-shape the energy market.

Two state-owned companies have begun work on prospective natural gas drill sites off the coast of Japan.

The Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation are drilling in separate locations for methane hydrate – a form of semi-solid natural gas.

If successful, Japan would be the owner of the world’s first seabed methane hydrate production.

Gas hydrates are sherbet-like deposits of natural gas trapped in ice deep under the seabed or permanently frozen ground where cold temperatures and extreme pressure has caused natural gas to condense into semisolid form.

Japan has increasingly been relying on new forms of fuel like natural gas and it’s hoped that methane hydrate mining will open up new doors for the country’s energy sector and economy. The deposits currently being mined are expected to be enough to meet Japan’s natural gas supply for up to 14 years.

Prior to the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 30 per cent of Japan’s electricity came from nuclear sources.

But now with only three of the 54 nuclear reactors up and running, Japan has been forced to replace most of the energy previously generated by nuclear, with natural gas.

Peter Landers told the Wall Street Journal that Japan’s skyrocketing demand for natural gas has the potential to reshape the world.

“[Japan is] a huge economy; a huge amount of energy; and if you’re talking about taking away 30 per cent that’s a huge gap that has to be filled. Coal is too dirty, oil is very expensive, solar they’re getting interested in but that takes years to ramp up so if you look at what’s available and what’s most cost effective it’s natural gas,” he said.

This boom in natural gas is a positive for countries like America which are already experiencing LNG booms.

LNG prices surged to a three-year high at the end of last year mainly due to increase demand from Asia.

It’s predicted that as natural gas demand increases, large American-based companies may be encouraged to build more plants; a multi-billion dollar industry which could help the US economy contain inflation from rising oil and coal costs.

But Japan has learnt from it’s past fuel trade deals and seems keen to cut out the middleman. If Japan can source and refine it’s own fuel resources, it too could be on the way to help pulling its economy back into the black.