Workers celebrate successful trial extraction of natural gas hydrate in South China Sea last month. (Photo provided to China Daily)
Combustible ice exploration may see industry role on policy backing
China's reserves of combustible ice, a natural gas hydrate, are estimated at 80 billion metric tons of oil equivalent, which suggests massive resource potential, the Ministry of Land and Resources said in Beijing on Friday.
Li Jinfa, deputy director of the ministry's China Geological Survey, told a news conference that the natural gas hydrate, which is flammable like solid ethanol, could well be China's next big opportunity in energy.
"So far, trial mining of combustible ice in the Shenhu sea, about 320 kilometers southeast of Zhuhai in Guangdong, has made smooth progress with an average of 8,350 cubic meters of gas with high purity extracted each day," Li said.
So, the ministry has approved the gas hydrate as a new mineral, 173rd for the country, having recognized shale gas as a separate mineral in 2011.
This would mean relevant policies will likely be formulated to encourage explorers to participate in the exploration of various types of combustible ice, he said.
Li further said aspects like exploration, block delineation, granting of licenses for mining, mining registration and development will be accorded priority.
Last month, China announced it succeeded in mining combustible ice at sea after nearly two decades of research and exploration.
A Xinhua report said combustible ice usually exists in seabed or tundra areas, which have the strong pressure and low temperature necessary for its stability.
One cubic meter of combustible ice is equal to 164 cubic meters of regular natural gas.
Experts have predicted that the natural gas hydrate is the best replacement for oil and natural gas, and could prove to be a major breakthrough that may revolutionize the global energy industry.
Li said test drilling and production last month by China International Marine Containers Group and China National Petroleum Corp have laid a solid foundation for possible commercial use of the resource before 2030.
So, China would accelerate the exploration of potential combustible ice reserves, launch trial mining of different types of combustible ice, and continue to strengthen marine science and technology innovation, he said.
Yu Haifeng, a senior official of the Ministry of Land and Resources, said China will strengthen its mineral resources management to promote development of the natural gas hydrate.
The ministry said it has so far delineated two mineral deposits, one of 123.1 billion cubic meters and the other of 150 billion cu m.
Analysts believe extraction of combustible ice is technically feasible but will take some time to become economically feasible.
The next step for China's combustible ice exploration is to reduce exploration and transportation costs, lower its impact on environment, particularly the mine's neighborhood, said Li Naisheng, head of the National Marine Science Research Center in Qingdao.
China should further come up with a technical standard and system for the natural gas hydrate exploration while enhancing its independent research and development capacity, he said.