DOE's Unconventional Gas Research Programs 1976-1995
SOURCE: U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Gulf of Mexico OCS Region

3.4. Deep Source Gas Project (1982-1992)

Deep source gas research was an outgrowth of DOE’s Unconventional Gas Resource (UGR) program begun in 1976.

The fundamental concept behind the research was that proving the existence of methane or methane-generating source rocks at great depths (>30,000 feet) could radically influence methods used to explore for new gas supplies.

The initial impetus came from a workshop held at METC in May 1982 to discuss the potential benefits of a research program that would investigate three possible types of deep source gas:

  • Abiogenic Gas – derived from primordial, non-biologic origin hydrocarbons in the earth’s mantle,
  • Subducted Organic Source Gas – arising from plate tectonic emplacement at great depth of hydrocarbons from organically-derived (near surface) sources, and
  • Deep Sedimentary Basin Gas – conventionally-sourced gas found in sedimentary rocks that have been tectonically downwarped to depths in excess of 30,000 feet.
The participants in this workshop (government, industry and academia) determined there was a need for conclusive data on the occurrence of methane from suspected deep sources and a DOE-led program to collect and analyze such data should be undertaken. Their recommendations included:
  • Improving geophysical techniques,
  • Coordinating geophysical and geochemical data to aid in evaluation of deep structural frameworks,
  • Developing an improved scheme for the differentiation of gas origins,
  • Implementing a cooperative effort in acquiring deep core samples from public and private sources,
  • Expanding efforts to thermodynamically model rock gas systems, with comparisons to deep core sample phenomena as they become available (e.g., fluid inclusions), and
  • Implementing field geologic studies on the western Cordilleran region of North America, with its relatively large unexplored area, abundant deep fault systems, allochthonous terranes, and adjacent convergent margin.

As a result of the workshop and other discussions, subsequent METC research became focused primarily on one of the deep source gas concepts: the subducted organic-origin concept.

Central to this idea was the notion that natural gas could be generated in sediments carried to great depths by plate tectonic activity along convergent margins, and that this emplaced deep gas could also source shallower traps through deep fracture systems (see Figure 3.4.1).

Figure 3.4.1: Schematic Illustrating the Concept of Deep Source Gas Associated with a Subduction
Zone. (Click to enlarge)
Figure 3.4.1: Schematic Illustrating the Concept of Deep Source Gas Associated with a Subduction Zone. (Click to enlarge)

The Cordilleran geologic province of North America was considered a prime candidate for study because it has both active and inactive subduction zones and contains thrust fault structures that enabled deep emplacement of hydrocarbon-generating sediments during the recent past (180 million years).

The specific area of interest in this province encompassed about 1.5 million square miles of Western U.S., Alaska and Canada. Preliminary geochemical studies indicated that the deep-source-gas generating capacity of this region could be as much as 3000 Tcf.

DOE funding was focused on establishing the existence of natural gas arising from these deep source zones, locating migratory paths, determining the existence of potential gas reservoirs, defining target areas and quantifying resources estimates. Geological characterization, consisting of geophysical and geochemical field studies of target areas in Northern California, Oregon and Washington, was initiated in FY 1984.

This research was carried out through work conducted in-house as well as in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey. Additional work on theoretical studies of potential deep gas compositional variation and the development of gas detection/differentiation systems was also pursued.

The DOE project manager at METC primarily responsible for research efforts related to deep source gas was William Gwilliam. The most important products that resulted from the Deep Source Gas program were the result of the dozen or so key projects listed below. A number of these projects were carried out under a USGS/DOE Interagency Agreement.

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Cover Page

Executive Summary

1. Background

2. GRI Research into Unconventional Gas Resources

3. Structure of the Enhanced Gas Recovery Program (EGR)

  • 3.1. Eastern Gas Shales Program (1976-1992)

  • 3.1.1. Key Questions and Related R&D Goals
  • 3.1.2. Program Design and Overview of Major Projects
  • 3.1.3. Key Eastern Gas Shales Projects
  • 3.1.4. Highlights of Important Results
  • 3.1.5. Subsequent Developments in DOE and Other Research Related to Eastern Gas Shales

  • 3.2. Western Gas Sands Program (1978-1992)

  • 3.2.1. Key Questions and Related R&D Goals
  • 3.2.2. Program Design and Overview of Major Projects
  • 3.2.3. Key Western Gas Sands Projects
  • 3.2.4. Highlights of Important Results
  • 3.2.5. Subsequent Developments in DOE Research Related to Tight Gas Sands

  • 3.3. Methane Recovery from Coalbeds Program (1978-1982)

  • 3.3.1. Key Questions Related to Coal Seam Methane
  • 3.3.2. MRCP Program Design and Overview
  • 3.3.3. Key Methane Recovery from Coalbeds Projects
  • 3.3.4. Highlights of Important Results
  • 3.3.5. Subsequent Research Related to Methane Recovery from Coalbeds

  • 3.4. Deep Source Gas Project (1982-1992)

  • 3.4.1. Key Deep Source Gas Projects
  • 3.4.2. Highlights of Important Results

  • 3.5. Methane Hydrates Program (1982-1992)

  • 3.5.1. Methane Hydrates Workshop (March 1982)
  • 3.5.2. Key Questions and Related R&D Goals
  • 3.5.3. Program Design
  • 3.5.4. Major Contracted Gas Hydrates Projects
  • 3.5.5. Methane Hydrate Research Efforts of METC's In-House Organization
  • 3.5.6. Highlights of Important Results
  • 3.5.7. Subsequent Developments in Methane Hydrate Research

  • 3.6. Secondary Gas Recovery (1987-1995)

  • 3.6.1. Key Objectives and Program Design
  • 3.6.2. Major Projects
  • 3.6.3. Major Results

    4. Elements of Spreadsheet Bibliographies (by Program)

    Appendix A: Details of Major 1970-1980 Unconventional Gas Resource Assessments

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