China is undertaking a drilling project in the South China Sea to extract natural gas hydrates, according to state media. Filel Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
June 12 (UPI) -- China has begun tapping into a vast reserve of natural gas hydrates in the South China Sea in a move that could rile neighbors like the Philippines.
State-owned news agency Xinhua reported Beijing has begun drilling for methane, or "burning ice," trapped inside water molecules in a reserve that is about 210,000 cubic meters in size.
Extraction tests for combustible ice began about a month earlier on May 10, in waters about 177 miles southeast of Hong Kong.
The underwater reserve lies about 1,260 meters below sea level, and by Saturday, China reached a daily production of 6,800 cubic meters, according to the Guangzhou Marine Geological Bureau.
"The process of gas production is smooth, and we are laying the foundation for the next step," a statement from the bureau read, according to Xinhua.
Natural gas hydrates are often found in arctic tundra and looks like ice but turns into water and natural gas when it is dissolved or decompressed.
NGH is garnering attention as a next-generation fuel and is one of the cleaner energy resources, generating fewer emissions than coal or oil.
Ye Jianliang, head of the Guangzhou bureau, said China abided by strict standards during the drilling process.
"We are monitoring the air, sea water, seabed and the exploration equipment. We are also closely following the amount of methane and carbon dioxide," Ye said.
Ye also said China can drill up to 35,000 cubic meters of the trapped methane gas per day.
Beijing has accelerated NGH projects since discovering the reserve in 2007, but Lin Boqiang, dean of the China Institute for Studies in Energy Policy in Xiamen University, said about 10-30 years of research and development is needed before combustible ice can replace fossil fuels, according to Xinhua.
NGH is a more efficient source of fuel than natural gas, with 1 cubic meter producing energy equivalent to 160 cubic meters of natural gas.