BEIJING (Kyodo) -- China said Thursday it has successfully extracted samples of natural gas hydrate for the first time in the South China Sea.
The ice-like burnable compound, containing a huge amount of methane, is seen as a potent alternative source of energy to conventional fossil fuels, with countries like Canada, Japan and the United States also accelerating their projects.
The samples came from the Shenhu area in the northern part of the sea, starting last Wednesday about 200 meters below the seabed at a depth of 1,266 meters, the China Geographical Survey said.
The institution under the Ministry of Land and Resources said about 16,000 cubic meters of gas, almost all methane, were extracted on average each day and described its trial mining as achieving a "historic breakthrough."
The area is about 300 kilometers southeast of Zhuhai in Guangdong Province. China claims sovereignty over virtually the entire South China Sea and it has disputes with smaller Asian neighbors in some other areas.
China first detected the frozen gas in 2007 in the sea. Compared with conventional fossil fuels, it has higher energy density and is more environmentally friendly, but is also much more expensive and difficult to extract.