The Energy Department on Wednesday announced that it has completed a successful test of technology to extract natural gas from methane hydrates found in Alaska's North Slope, kicking off a new joint research effort with Japan aimed at producing more gas from ice-bound formations in the Arctic.
The initiative is the result of a collaboration between the Energy Department, ConocoPhillips, and the Japanese government, which is interested in U.S. natural-gas exports as it works to scale down its nuclear energy program in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdown last year. The administration, partnering with industry and the Japan Oil, Gas, and Metals National Corporation, has said that it will make $6.5 million available this year for further research in this area and is requesting an additional $5 million for the efforts next year.
The administration's announcement is a sign that it is serious about producing and exporting gas from still-untapped reserves in Alaska. "While this is just the beginning, this research could potentially yield significant new supplies of natural gas," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement on Wednesday.
The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that methane hydrates buried beneath Alaska's North Slope may contain about 85.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — an amount that could heat more than 100 million average homes for more than a decade. On top of that, the amount of methane stored in hydrate deposits globally could contain more than twice as much energy as all other fossil-fuel resources combined, according to USGS estimates.