Benham Rise: Philippines' Under Sea Region Have Vast Deposit of Methane Hydrate

It’s been a long time since a lot of nearby countries of the Philippines tries to claim some of our sea regions. There were rumors as to what would be the biggest reason why they are doing this claims. Personally, it’s not just for expansion of territories but rather because of minerals.

Located in the Philippine Sea, East of Luzon, Benham Plateau, also known as the Benham Rise, is a 13-million-hectare undersea region rich in minerals and huge natural gas deposits.

Unlike the Spratly Islands in the West Philippine Sea, Benham Rise is not subject to any maritime boundary disputes and claims, yet. China and other Southeast Asian countries try to claim some of the country’s sea region.

On April 2012, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has approved the Philippines’ territorial claim to Benham Rise, which the Philippine government claimed as an extension of the Philippines’ continental shelf. 

Benham Rise, is a seismically active undersea region and extinct volcanic ridge located in the Philippine Sea approximately 250 km (160 mi) east of the northern coastline of Dinapigue, Isabela.

In 1933, an American geologist surnamed Benham discovered the area that was between 40 and 2,000 meters below the waterline. Benham Rise has been part of the culture of ancient Filipinos. Long before the colonial era, ancient Catanduanes people have fished and roamed the area.

For the past years, according to a lot of studies conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ (DENR), indicated that Benham Rise has large deposits of methane in solid form.

Methane clathrate also called methane hydrate or methane ice is a solid clathrate compound in which a huge amount of methane is trapped inside a crystal like structure of water, forming a solid similar to ice.

Significant deposits of methane clathrate have been found beneath Antarctic ice and in sedimentary deposits along continental margins worldwide.

Methane clathrate (CH4·5.75H2O) or (4CH4·23H2O), also called methane hydrate, hydromethane, methane ice, fire ice, natural gas hydrate, or gas hydrate, is a solid clathrate compound (more specifically, a clathrate hydrate) in which a large amount of methane is trapped within a crystal structure of water, forming a solid similar to ice. Originally thought to occur only in the outer regions of the Solar System, where temperatures are low and water ice is common, significant deposits of methane clathrate have been found under sediments on the ocean floors of the Earth.

Methane clathrates are common constituents of the shallow marine geosphere and they occur in deep sedimentary structures and form outcrops on the ocean floor. Methane hydrates are believed to form by migration of gas from deep along geological faults, followed by precipitation or crystallization, on contact of the rising gas stream with cold sea water. In 2008, research on Antarctic Vostok and EPICA Dome C ice cores revealed that methane clathrates were also present in deep Antarctic ice cores and record a history of atmospheric methane concentrations, dating to 800,000 years ago. The ice-core methane clathrate record is a primary source of data for global warming research, along with oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Huge methane ice (burning ice) deposits in Benham Rise could turn the Philippines into a natural gas exporter.

Natural gas is a fossil fuel used as a source of energy for heating, cooking, and electricity generation. It is also used as fuel for vehicles and as a chemical feedstock in the manufacture of plastics and other commercially important organic chemicals.

Methane ice deposits are believed to be a larger hydrocarbon resource than all of the world’s oil, natural gas and coal resources combined, it could become the next energy game changer. Experts dubbed the methane ice as the “fuel of the future.”

In fact, the deposits of this methane ice in Benham Rise are believed to be so huge, it could make the Philippines one of the richest countries in the world.

Japan and Korea expressed interest in exploring Benham Rise last February 12, 2016

The infamous Fukushima disaster has led to Japan’s entire nuclear industry to shut down, resulting in its gradual shift back to fossil fuel for power generation.

The Japanese government has spent millions of dollars on researching related to methane ice after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

On March 2013, Japan becomes the first in the world to successfully extracted gas from methane ice from the seabed, 3,300 feet below sea level. They are planning to commercially produce the natural gas by early 2020.

Recently, Benham Rise has attracted the interest of experts from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (Jamstec) and Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIOST) to collaborate in conducting research and exploration.

JAMSTEC would like to do a survey using its ¥6-billion submarine research project. They adviced the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to collaborate with them or maybe rent their equipment in exploring the vast gas-rich area of Benham Rise.

In 2011, Environment Secretary Ramon Jesus Paje said “Benham Rise is very relevant because of its gas deposits which has been confirmed particularly by the National Mapping Resource Information Agency. It has given us the data that the area contains solid methane. We have not explored it but we have found nodules of methane in the surface and this is very important to us.”

He added that there would be a demand for gas deposits in Benham Rise “because it’s much cleaner than other fossil fuels.”

Paje said that gas deposits in the area would also enable the country to achieve energy sufficiency.

Aside from Benham Rise, the Philippines has another resource-rich area in the West Philippine Sea, the Kalayaan Group of Islands which is part of the disputed Spratly Islands claimed by the Philippines. It is also believed to have contain oil and natural gas.

If methane hydrates were developed, it would have a truly transformational impact on energy markets, arguably even more so than the United States shale revolution ever did.

Now you know why a lot of nearby countries are trying to claim some of our properties. Let’s just hope that our government will seriously do something about this.


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