Japan has started its first commercial hydraulic fracturing operations to extract shale oil via the technology that has revolutionized the U.S. energy market, a statement by Japan Petroleum Exploration Co., or Japex, announced.

Commercial production of shale oil in the northern prefecture of Akita will start at a much smaller scale than in the United States but the 220 barrels a day estimated to be produced at first are still an important step for the country's energy industry.

The company stated that the current stage of production was a "demonstration experiment" and, based on results from it, the amount of shale oil and natural gas produced at the oil field was "highly likely to increase." Results would be thoroughly analyzed to decide on the most appropriate steps to develop a full-scale fracking operation, Japex said. Early projections indicate that the company will be ready to move on to the next stage of operations by the end of this year.

Despite the modest production rates, Japex still believes operations are viable from an economic point of view because the area has well developed infrastructure, including processing facilities and pipelines. At present, the company cannot provide an estimate of the potentially recoverable shale oil reserves but domestic production could be of great importance to Japan which is currently importing nearly all of its fossil fuel, media reports say.