With China's recent success in mining a new energy source, oil and coal's monopoly on the global energy system may be slipping away faster than ever. You thought wind energy was cool? Now we have flammable ice.

"Flammable Ice"? How is that possible?

While it may seem like an oxymoron, this so-called "flammable ice" forms when methane is trapped under ice or seabeds, capturing the methane in the crystalline structure of water molecules. Methane Hydrates have been researched and explored in North America and Asia, and this is not the first time they have been successfully extracted.

The New York Times reported in May 2013 that Japan, a country with few natural resources of its own, had extracted combustible ice from its seabed, and aimed to make the venture commercially profitable within five years.

Now, with just a year before the end of that 5-year goal, China has begun its own successful excavation operations. According to state media, the miners extracted approximately 16,000 cubic meters of gas from the bed of the South China Sea, a body of water that sits between the southern Chinese border, southeast Asia, and the Philippines.

This is the first time that China has had such a success and is one of the largest excavations of flammable ice to date.

Indeed, Chinese miners seem to be more successful than those of the original Japanese efforts, but that does not mean that it is ready to start using or selling the fuel at a large (or even small) scale.

Associate Professor Praveen Linga from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the National University of Singapore told the BBC, "It is the first time that production rates actually seem promising.

But it's thought that only by 2025 at the earliest we might be able to look at realistic commercial options."

A letter circulated by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council showed the government welcomed the success and hopes it ushers in a new era of energy and technological innovation for the country. The letter writers also acknowledged the work still to be done in bringing down costs and improving overall efficiency.

What will its effects on the environment and energy as a whole be?

Here's the rub: researchers don't quite know what the full impacts of using methane hydrates will be. And this is after over three decades of research. On one hand, natural gas has been generally accepted as a cleaner and cheaper fuel source than oil and coal. But the word "methane" strikes fear into many an environmentalists' heart. Methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If flammable ice isn't handled carefully, the methane in it could be released into the atmosphere with devastating effects.

So, like with many new technologies, we are faced with a challenge that is often more complicated than the original science behind it all: how much do we risk to expand innovation?

And how much do we trust ourselves to handle our new knowledge safely and ethically? As countries race against the clock and against each other to bring methane hydrates to the global market while simultaneously escaping the effects of global climate change, we must tread carefully: the ice could indeed send us down another slippery slope of damaging energy sources.

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