In what is the first time in 10 years that the Japanese government engaged in exploratory drilling for oil and gas, tests have begun in an oil and natural gas field just off the island of Sado in Niigata Prefecture. Authorities revealed on Monday that the field could potentially be the largest in Japan, big enough to rival a midsized oil field in the Middle East and is 10 times the size of Narita International Airport.
The test area off Sado Island spreads over 100 square kilometers and is geologically favorable to oil and natural gas, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. This area, if it produces enough oil and gas for commercial drilling, will be potentially larger than the largest land-based oilfield in the country – the 35-square-km Yufutsu field in Hokkaido. Working together on the test drills are JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp. and Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp., set to explore the area for the next 3 months. The plan is to dig up to 2,700 meters deep into the seabed to see the potential quantity of oil and natural gas that could be produced. The test drillers are utilizing the deep-sea vessel Chikyu, the same vessel that extracted another natural gas discovery off Aichi Prefecture in March – an underwater layer of methane hydrate, commonly known as “fire ice”.
In the wake of the Japan’s growing dependence on imported fuel and the prohibitive costs it is imposing on energy utility companies, the government has started to explore rumored oil and natural gas preserves around the archipelago. The islands around Japan and the areas just offshore are believed to hold large amounts of oil and natural gas, but the government has held off on exploration because of the difficulties and the cost involved. It looks somehow that the decision to back off nuclear power has affected the energy industry in as much as forcing the government to look into alternative sources to build up its oil and natural gas reserves.
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