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Feb 14, 2013 | 17:16 GMT

Methane Hydrate Reserves in East Asia

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Methane Hydrate Reserves in East Asia

Methane hydrates, or natural gas molecules trapped in ice, are widely distributed throughout the globe, including locations that do not have substantial conventional natural gas reserves. Deposits have been discovered off the coasts of Japan, India, South Korea and Chile, in the Gulf of Mexico and off the southeastern coast of the United States. Potential reserves also exist in the Arctic permafrost of Alaska, Canada and Russia. Their widespread distribution means traditionally resource-poor countries could now have access to domestic sources of energy. Methane hydrate estimates throughout Asia are still being determined through further exploration, but initial median estimates place Japan's reserves at 6 trillion cubic meters, China's at 5 trillion cubic meters and India's at 26 trillion cubic meters. Japan was the first nation to establish a methane hydrate program, which it founded in 1995. India formed its national program in 1997, and China and South Korea followed suit later. Since 2006, China, India and South Korea have all led exploratory expeditions that included conducting seismic studies and retrieving core samples to determine the composition of possible reserves. While initial offshore exploration has occurred near the coast, often within a given country's exclusive economic zone, future exploration will likely continue offshore. This exploration could happen in contentious waters, especially in East Asia. As technology continues to advance, a new dimension to pre-existing territorial frictions could emerge as nations switch from competing for potential resources to actual resources. Exploration for this resource is a tool competing nations could use to claim sovereignty over disputed waters. Whether or not the technical hurdles of extracting methane hydrates are overcome, short- and medium-term exploration efforts could help countries in their attempts to establish a presence in international or disputed waters. Japan's lead in the development of methane hydrate extraction could give it an edge in the competition for future resources in the region.

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