China has for the first time succeeded in mining flammable ice at sea, after nearly two decades of research and exploration, the country’s Ministry of Land and Resources announced on May 18. Experts also pointed out that these are only a small portion of China’s huge reserves.
Trial mining of combustible ice in the Shenhu Sea, about 320 kilometers southeast of Zhuhai, Guangdong province, began on March 28. Experts first tapped the natural hydrate at a depth of 1,266 meters underwater last Wednesday. After that, an average of 16,000 cubic meters of gas with high purity were extracted each day.
Ore bodies of 11 combustible ice types have been found, and the estimated reserves are equal to 150 billion cubic meters. Chinese scientists also estimate that there is an area of 5,242 square kilometers of combustible ice in the Xisha Trough. In other waters of the South China Sea, experts predict the existence of more natural gas hydrate.
China’s successful operation is groundbreaking. Other countries like the U.S., Canada and Japan are conducting research to arrive at the same results, but China’s achievement means its technology in this area is among the best, according to Xie Wenwei, deputy director of the command office at the exploration site.
Combustible ice usually exists in seabeds or tundra areas, which have the strong pressure and low temperatures necessary for the ice’s stability. One cubic meter of combustible ice is equal to 164 cubic meters of regular natural gas.
The mining of combustible ice started in the 1960s, but China began its research in 1998. The country first found flammable ice in the South China Sea in 2007.