Fire and Ice: Regulating Methane Hydrate as a Potential New Energy Source
On March 12, 2013, Japan announced it had successfully extracted methane gas from solid methane hydrate—an icy compound formed when methane gas mixes with water under specific temperature and pressure conditions. This achievement is thought to be the first instance of researchers extracting large quantities of methane gas from methane hydrate located directly below the seabed. Current estimates place the amount of natural gas trapped in methane hydrate as many times that of “conventional” natural gas. Given the abundance of methane hydrate in both permafrost and sediments beneath the seabed, scientists have begun looking to the compound as a prospective new source of natural gas for energy production. However, the regulatory scheme that would eventually govern extraction of natural gas from methane hydrate within the United States’ 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) remains ambiguous, and such extraction raises serious questions about safety and environmental damage.