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Low-temperature gas from marine shales

By Frank D Mango and Daniel M Jarvie


Thermal cracking of kerogens and bitumens is widely accepted as the major source of natural gas (thermal gas). Decomposition is believed to occur at high temperatures, between 100 and 200°C in the subsurface and generally above 300°C in the laboratory. Although there are examples of gas deposits possibly generated at lower temperatures, and reports of gas generation over long periods of time at 100°C, robust gas generation below 100°C under ordinary laboratory conditions is unprecedented. Here we report gas generation under anoxic helium flow at temperatures 300° below thermal cracking temperatures. Gas is generated discontinuously, in distinct aperiodic episodes of near equal intensity. In one three-hour episode at 50°C, six percent of the hydrocarbons (kerogen & bitumen) in a Mississippian marine shale decomposed to gas (C1–C5). The same shale generated 72% less gas with helium flow containing 10 ppm O2 and the two gases were compositionally distinct. In sequential isothermal heating cycles (~1 hour), nearly five times more gas was generated at 50°C (57.4 μg C1–C5/g rock) than at 350°C by thermal cracking (12 μg C1–C5/g rock)

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