South China Sea pilot site to be built for 'combustible ice' cooperation
China will establish a pilot site in the South China Sea to speed industrialization of "combustible ice," a field fit for long-term cooperation with other countries, experts said on Wednesday.
"Combustible ice" is a natural gas hydrate (NGH) found in tundra or seabed areas that contains methane. It looks like ice, but when melted or depressurized, it turns into water and natural gas.
"China will speed up industrialization of NGH in 2018, strengthen cooperation with relevant departments and promote the establishment of a pilot site in the South China Sea's Shenhu region. China will also conduct surveys on the environmental evaluation of NGH and organize research and development on core NGH technologies," Wang Yan, deputy director of China Geological Survey at the Ministry of Land and Resources, told a press conference on Tuesday.
China successfully extracted natural gas hydrate in the Shenhu sea region for eight consecutive days from May 10, proving that China was able to stably collect it, according to China Geological Survey.
The gas was extracted at a test site from a depth of 1,266 meters below sea level and 285 kilometers southeast of Hong Kong.
Considering the huge reserves, claimants in the South China Sea issue could focus on natural gas hydrate cooperation and China could offer technological assistance on exploitation, Liu Feng, a Hainan-based expert on the South China Sea, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
"Data from geology departments showed that the NGH under the South China Sea could reach the equivalent of 70 billion tons of oil. NGH would also be a new field for countries near the South China Sea to cooperate," he said.
Natural gas hydrate is mainly found in deep-sea sediments or permafrost areas.
It consists of 80 to 99.9 percent methane and produces much less pollution than coal, oil and natural gas when it burns.
As a cleaner energy, natural gas hydrate could ease pressure on China to reduce carbon emissions and help with the global upgrading of energy and economic structures, Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University in Fujian Province, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
It would take at least 10 years for China to improve the technology, Lin believed. More research is needed before China could conduct commercial exploitation and use it to replace traditional fossil fuels, he said.
Analysts believe that although China has made breakthroughs extracting NGH, the cost is high and the environmental influence remains unknown.
"Future development of NGH collection should focus on how to commercialize exploitation at a low cost and minimize the impact on the environment," Lin said.