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Cablegate: Academics Question Viability of Methane Hydrate Research

VZCZCXRO3149
RR RUEHAST RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD RUEHTM
DE RUEHKO #3072/01 3092234
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 042234Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY TOKYO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8519
INFO RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RUEHOK/AMCONSUL OSAKA KOBE 4549
RUEHKSO/AMCONSUL SAPPORO 1339
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 6187
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 2183
RHMCSUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TOKYO 003072

ENERGY FOR EDITH ALLISON

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ENRG SENV JA
SUBJECT: ACADEMICS QUESTION VIABILITY OF METHANE HYDRATE RESEARCH
PROGRAM

TOKYO 00003072 001.2 OF 002


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. PLEASE HANDLE ACCORDINGLY.

REF: TOKYO 2426

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: While Japan's research and development of methane
hydrate extraction has gained momentum and is drawing high-profile
political support, academics and industry figures question its
commercial viability and are urging a more thorough examination of
the GOJ's methane hydrate program. Scientific skeptics base
concerns on the inferior quality of methane hydrate relative to
conventional fossil fuels, potentially negative environmental
impacts, and the limited scale of reserves in the targeted research
area as the basis for their concerns. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) The most recent meeting of the Agency for Natural Resources
and Energy (ANRE) Oil and Gas Subcommittee revealed strong
skepticism about the GOJ's methane hydrate research and development
strategy (reftel) among academics and some industry figures. The
standing advisory body convened at the request of Economy, Trade and
Industry (METI) Minister Nikai, who had tasked the committee (an
advisory group consisting of experts from government, industry and
academia) with discussing biofuel quality control as well as the
GOJ's methane hydrate research and development plan.

--------------------------------------------- --
METHANE HYDRATE IS A LOW-QUALITY HIGH COST FUEL
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (U) Waseda University Professor Nobuo Morita, an expert in
petroleum engineering, said the GOJ should seriously examine the
program before devoting more resources to methane hydrate
development. Morita said methane hydrate remains extremely
difficult to extract, and several technological breakthroughs will
be required before commercially-viable extraction can occur.
Additionally, the quality of methane hydrate is lower than
conventional fossil fuels, which makes it a less efficient energy
source. Morita explained that the quality of energy sources may be
ranked on a scales of 1 to 5: the most efficient fuels are grade 1,
oil, natural gas and coal; grade 2 is heavy oil; grade 3 is
hydro-soluble gas or oil sand; grade 4 is deep oil sand; and grade 5
is the deep oil shale; methane hydrate is a grade 5 energy source.


4. (U) Morita also questioned the efficiency of extracting methane
from methane hydrate (a sherbet-like compound of methane molecules
trapped in frozen water), noting liquefaction requires significant
ground heat generation, which diminishes net energy efficiency and
could also damage the surrounding ground soil. Morita also said the
quantity of gas produced from the targeted methane hydrate field is
only about one fifth of the existing Iwaki offshore gas field
production near Fukushima prefecture, which weakens its commercial
value compared to existing resources. Finally, Morita mentioned
methane hydrate could be environmentally damaging if methane, a
greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, escapes during
the extraction process

--------------------------------------------- --
"DREAM COME TRUE" FOR RESOURCE DEPENDENT JAPAN?
--------------------------------------------- --

5. (U) Katsuhiko Suetsugu, Secretary General of Asia Pacific Energy
Forum, described methane hydrate as a potential "dream come true"
for a country without any natural resources, and forecasted public
support for a methane hydrate research and development program.
However, Suetsugu urged the GOJ to be strategic in targeting
potential locations for methane hydrate extraction. He praised the
methane hydrate research consortium's focus on the Nankai Trough
(Southeast of Japan) as well as its cooperation with the U.S. and
Canada on methane development. However, the Liancourt Rocks dispute
with Korea, competing claims with China in the East China Sea as
well as unresolved border issues with Russia will mean Japan has to
consider possible jurisdictional disputes on extracting methane
hydrates, Suetsugu said. Suetsugu also welcomed the
quasi-governmental Japan Oil, Gas and Metals Exploration
Corporation's (JOGMEC) leadership of the research consortium, but
called for more incentives for private companies to participate in
the project.

-------------------------------------
ENERGY AND FISHING INDUSTRIES AT ODDS
-------------------------------------

6. (U) Speaking on behalf of industry, a representative of the Japan

TOKYO 00003072 002.2 OF 002


Gas Association said industry would welcome development of domestic
natural gas resources and also called on the GOJ to fund research
and development of coal gasification to extract methane.

7. (U) Meanwhile, a representative of the National Federation of
Fisheries Cooperative Associations, said he was glad to hear
Professor Morita's presentation describing the challenges of methane
hydrate development. Emphasizing the importance of aquatic
resources in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone, in which 300,000
fishing boats operate daily, Yoshida called for emphasizing the
importance of the ocean environment as well as the national
interest. A committee member from the Japan Petroleum Development
Association also noted that some of the technologies being
considered for methane hydrate extraction, including high-pressure
water injection, may require additional regulation, i.e., a
curtailment of fishing rights, of the fisheries industry.

8. (SBU) COMMENT: Several committee members said Morita's skeptical
remarks were particularly eye-opening. While the vigorous panel
discussion reflects the high profile attention methane hydrate has
received, the divergent opinions on the feasibility of methane
hydrate extraction illustrate a consensus has not yet emerged on the
scope and direction of the GOJ's research and development program.
Energy security, particularly development of methane hydrate within
Japan's exclusive economic zone, rather than economics appears to be
driving the GOJ's interest at this stage. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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