Chinese policies seem unprepared to address the risks that could emerge from pioneering offshore extractions and the numerous uncertainties surrounding them.

The Methane-Hydrate extraction market is projected to become one of the most significant in the fuels field in the coming years. The abundance of resources, combined with the greener process of energy production, has kickstarted the interest in this source of energy. In 2017, China was the first country to find and extract MH under their seabed where an “ice cage” for methane subject to high pressure can form. Japan followed shortly thereafter. In their paper “Evaluating China’s Environmental Management and Risks Avoidance Policies and Regulations on Offshore Methane Hydrate Extraction “Dong Yan, Paolo Davide Farah, Ivana Gaskova and Carlo Vittorio Giabardo examine the law that is governing these extraction operations in China. The main concern that arises from the article is the fact that Chinese policies seem unprepared to address the risks that could emerge from these pioneering offshore extractions and the numerous uncertainties surrounding them. Usually in these cases, the approach in western countries is to undergo a more severe process of prior risk evaluation for innovations that could present unknown risks. Chinese law, on the contrary, provides the same rules for well-established extraction processes as for these original ones. As the authors state, this resolves in “assessing the unknown” when risk-evaluating MH offshore extractions. Chinese Environmental Protection Law (EPL) and its marine counterpart (MEPL) in fact state the necessity of a prior EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) when commencing operations of offshore extractions. This resolves in a consolidated risk assessment for, for example, oil extractions, but results in a shot in the dark when we talk of the unforeseeable risks of an explorative method of extraction. Moreover, the authors point out that assessment agencies are not prepared enough to address the risks of offshore methane hydrate extraction. This is because their staff has only to undertake a generic training by the State Oceanic Administration and in the manuals “there is no specific guidance related to assessing the risks of offshore methane hydrate extraction” and because these agencies “may lack references –or the scientific data– necessary to produce relevant evaluations of offshore MH processes”. The authors claim that even public participation, which is mandatory according to Chinese Rule of Managing Oceanic Project Environment Impact Assessment – RMOPEIA, could not be feasible when dealing with offshore MH processes. This is because it is really difficult to select the “relevant” public to involve due to variance based on the risk considered. Lastly, the involvement of the relevant public authorities could improve the inclusiveness of a final decision. However, the Approval Committee usually does not include technical specialists because it is difficult to find ones specialized in this rather new field. The authors argue that it would be useful and necessary to expand access to the public and enable the participation of private entities, too. Indeed, if public bodies or institutions are less likely to possess the capacity to process and decode the technological or scientific data of a risky activity, then private bodies may be able to provide such beneficial information However, we are talking of a process still in development and it would be therefore interesting to follow step by step developments in these pioneering extractions. This would allow for evaluation of compliance with the relevant legislation and whether Chinese practice will take shape in order to compensate its law’s shortcomings.