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ABSTRACT: Potential Geologic Hazards of Arctic Gas Hydrates

Timothy S. Collett

Sediments of the Arctic region may contain enormous quantities of natural gas in the form of gas hydrates, which are crystalline substances composed of water and mostly methane gas. These ice-like substances are generally found in two distinct environments: (1) offshore in sediments of outer continental margins and (2) nearshore and onshore in areas associated with the occurrence of permafrost.

Recently, United States, Canadian, and Soviet researchers have described numerous drilling and production problems attributed to the presence of gas hydrates, including uncontrolled gas releases during drilling, collapsed casings, and gas leakage to the surface. When the drill bit penetrates a gas hydrate, the drilling mud, unless cooled significantly by the operator, will become highly gasified as the hydrate decomposes. The hydrate adjacent to the well bore will continue to decompose and gasify the drilling and/or production introduces

heat into the hydrate-bearing interval. The production of hot fluids from depth through the permafrost and gas hydrate-bearing intervals adversely raises formation temperatures, thus decomposing the gas hydrates. If the disassociated, free gas is trapped behind the casing, reservoir pressures may substantially increase and cause the casing to collapse. In several wells in northern Alaska, the disassociated free gas has leaked to the surface outside the conductor casing. An additional drilling hazard associated with gas hydrates results from the sealing attributes of hydrates, which may trap large volumes of over pressured free gas at shallow depths.

Even though documented problems attributed to the presence of gas hydrates have been relatively few, it is likely that as exploration and development activity moves farther offshore into deeper water (>300 m) and to higher latitudes in the Arctic, the frequency of gas hydrate-related problems will increase.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91003©1990 AAPG Annual Convention, San Francisco, California, June 3-6, 1990