By Zenon C. Valin and Timothy S. Collett
Gas hydrates, which are crystalline substances of water molecules that encase gas molecules, have the potential for being a significant source of natural gas. World-wide estimates for the amount of gas contained in hydrates range from 1.1 x 105 to 2.7 x 108 trillion cubic feet. Gas hydrates exist in many Arctic regions, including the North Slope of Alaska.
The two primary objectives of the U.S. Geological Survey Gas Hydrate Research Project are (1) to map the distribution of in-situ gas hydrates on the North Slope of Alaska, and (2) to evaluate the geologic parameters that control the distribution of these gas hydrates. To aid in this study, British Petroleum Exploration, ARCO Alaska, Exxon Company USA, and the Continental Oil Company allowed the U.S. Geological Survey to collect geochemical samples from drilling North Slope production wells.
Molecular analysis of gaseous drill cutting and free-flowing gas samples from 10 production wells drilled in the Prudhoe Bay, Kuparuk River, and Milne Point oil fields indicates that methane is the primary hydrocarbon gas in the gas hydrate-bearing stratigraphic units. Isotopic data for several of these rock units indicate that the methane within the inferred gas hydrate occurences originated from both microbial and thermogenic processes.
This work was funded by the U.S. Geological Survey Global Change and Climate History Program and the U.S. Department of Energy (Agreement No. DE-AI21-83MC20422).
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