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    Dispute over natural gas deposits continues

    The US-Japan cooperative missile defense program is moving forward:

    Speaking to reporters at a hotel in Singapore, Ono said the sea-based missile defense project would move from research to development, with the agency planning to request several billions of yen in fiscal 2006 for the first year’s development.

    Production will begin following a five-year development phase that ends in fiscal 2011, he said.

    Japan and the United States are jointly developing a large sea-based interceptor missile with a 53-centimeter diameter with a longer range that enables it to cover a wide area. The missile can distinguish a targeted missile from a decoy.

    The most interesting reason this is a good thing for Japan to be considering is buried near the end of the article:

    “Japan doesn’t consider China a threat, but Beijing’s defense spending is under wraps. A Chinese submarine intruded into Japanese waters and its marine survey and gas field development are provocative,” Ono said.

    The conflict over exploration for fossil fuels (especially a particular natural gas field) has been growing. Demand is growing in China’s expanding economy, and it’s always been high in Japan’s:

    Although the current standoff has not changed, it is very regrettable that the PRC has continued its project of developing the Shungyo Gas Fields near the center line [between China and Japan]. The Chinese side says that it expects to open the field for production as early as October. It will be a major problem if the rough sailing for negotiations and long-term developments turn out to be advantageous only for the PRC side. The PRC should first temporarily cease development of the Shungyo Gas Fields.

    From some on the PRC side, the following argument has recently emerged: there is a fault line between the gas fields and the center line through maritime territory on the Japanese side, so because it is partitioned by geological structure, Japanese natural resources will not be affected even if [China] begins production of gas and petroleum from Shungyo. But if that is the case, we would like to see it proved clearly with detailed data. After all, what both countries need to do is get an objective confirmation of what the true state of the available natural resources is. The sharing of accurate information will make cool-headed dialogue possible.

    The Japanese government has already deemed the move by the Chinese to develop the gas fields a “possible infringement on our rights.” It’s not surprising everyone is so worked up: estimates are that there are 7 trillion cubic feet of gas under there, and (as the Nikkei editorial above implies) it is not certain that the fault line actually partitions the reservoirs into distinct pockets. The BBC has a simple surface map that gives at least a basic idea where we’re talking about.

    No one is predicting at this point that China and Japan are in danger of full-scale war over natural resources. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember, as accusations about history books and shrine visits fly around, that there are more substantive things under dispute.

    3 Responses to “Dispute over natural gas deposits continues”

    1. machiruda says:

      You make some interesting comments on the East China Sea dispute. If I may, I’m curious where you get the 7 tcf estimate from. The latest I’ve heard was a (Chinese) estimate of 1.6 tcf, mentioned in an EIA China report. That is last year’s information though, so I could be way behind…

      this article in the Japan Times also gives some interesting views, in case you haven’t seen it.

      It is also worth pointing out that the UN has said they will make a decision on the division of the economic zones in 2009; it is expected that the country with the furthest developed natural resources stands a better chance of winning… No wonder Japan would like to get exploring and developing the area as well!

    2. Toren Smith says:

      I worked for seven years in the oil patch, and the idea that a fault line would separate a field into “two pockets” is absurd. Oil and gas deposits are not sloshing around in big pools underground. The “reefs” are more like sponges made of porous rock.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:


      Thanks for the Japan Times link. I don’t remember exactly where I first read the 7 trillion ft3 figure, but it’s repeated in this article I just Googled. (I was brought up in a really conservative Christian sect, so 7, as the number of completion, tends to stick in even my not-good-with-numbers memory):

      Japan accuses China of extracting gas from the Japanese side of the fields, which a 1999 survey estimated had a massive 200 billion cubic meters (seven trillion cubic feet) of gas.

      I take this particular passage with a grain of salt, since, to my knowledge, there’s no accusation that China is directly extracting gas from the Japanese side. The contention is that once the Chinese start depleting deposits on their side, they will naturally begin wicking gas away from the Japan-side deposits contiguous with them–but that hasn’t happened yet.


      I obviously know less about this than you do, but that was my understanding, also: it’s not as if there were a cavern with smooth walls, like a buried gas tank, filled with fossil fuels; it’s that you have lots of little pockets. The way the China-side argument seemed to work was that the fault line may have pushed a layer of non-porous rock up (or down) in such a way as to seal off communication between two pockets that used to be contiguous. But there’s not a whole lot of detail.

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