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TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese energy explorer said on Tuesday it extracted gas from offshore methane hydrate deposits for the first time in the world, as part of an attempt to achieve commercial production within six years.

Since 2001, Japan, which imports nearly all of its energy needs, has invested several hundred million dollars in developing technology to tap methane hydrate reserves off its coast that are estimated to be equal to about 11 years of gas consumption.

State-run Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp (JOGMEC) said the gas was tapped from deposits of methane hydrate, a frozen gas known as "flammable ice", near Japan's central coast.

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