February 7, 2009
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Home / Issue Archive / 2009 / January - December #1 / VNIIGAZ’s Technological Expedition - Time for Hydrates

№ 1 (January - December 2009)

VNIIGAZ’s Technological Expedition - Time for Hydrates

In July 2008 VNIIGAZ’s technological expedition studying gas hydrates of Lake Baikal conducted a research on bottom samples.  The research will be contin-ued in laboratory conditions. 

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This work pursues the best traditions of VNIIGAZ’s elder generation of scientists, who were first to demonstrate perspective problems of gas hydrates to the scientific world.
Gazprom stimulates hydrate research
In recent years, gas hydrates problems arouse significant interest all over the world.  Active research stimulation is instigated by active search of alternative hydrocarbon material sources; by a need to evaluate a role of gas hydrates in geosphere near-surface layers, especially due to their potential impact on global climate changes; by studying mechanisms of gas hydrate formation and dissociation in the earth crust in general theory terms with a view to justify prospecting and exploration of conventional hydrocarbon fields in complicated natural conditions; by expediency of reducing operational costs to prevent hydrate formation in the field gas production systems due to switching over to energy and resource saving technologies and environmentally safe technologies; and by potential application of gas hydrate technologies during natural gas production, storage and transportation.
In 2003, Gazprom conducted an enlarged session devoted to gas hydrates, which could be considered as a sort of ‘inspection of gas hydrate resources’; subsequent hydrate researches in Russia continued quite actively.  VNIIGAZ, Institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), and universities perform experiments and calculations relating to thermodynamics and kinetics of hydrate formation and offshore and onshore hydrate geology and geophysics; analyze methods to develop gas hydrate deposits; and develop protection systems for engineering facilities in soils saturated with hydrates.
Unconventional gas sources are in the focus of modern science
A potential for increasing Gazprom’s resource base is in prospecting and exploration of hydrocarbon accumulations referred to unconventional gas sources.
VNIIGAZ has recently started systematical works on gas hydrates in offshore zones; subaquatic gas hydrate deposits are analyzed as a natural indicator of deeper oil and gas fields; special attention is paid to hydrate bearing prospects in the Black Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk; and resource evaluations are analyzed. Drawbacks of gas hydrate forecasts and their resource evaluations were revealed in many onshore and offshore regions such as Alaska, Mackenzie Bay, Atlantic Margin of the USA (Blake Outer Ridge – Carolina), the Nankai trench, etc.  Alongside with that, as new actual data are found, evaluations of perspective methane hydrate resources change significantly, both increase and reduce.
Essential results of recent gas hydrate researches include discovery of gas hydrate accumulations and hydrate accumulation zones in various regions as well as detection of numerous signs of hydrocarbons unloading in water aquatories, on their beds and in sediment sequences.  All these signs are quite detectable by means of modern technologies for offshore geophysical and geochemical surveys.
The Institute attracts a lot of specialists capable to conduct both own gas hydrate researches and to coordinate implementation of the gas hydrate program developed by Gazprom
In 2006, based on accumulated experience under the agreement with Gazprom, employees of the Geocryology and Hydrates Laboratory developed a special inter-industry Program of Development and Application by Gazprom of Technologies for Gas Exploration and Production from Natural Gas Hydrates.  Advanced research teams of the Russian industry and academic institutions are involved in implementation of the Program. 
Bottom gas hydrates in the Black Sea, Sea of Okhotsk and Lake Baikal open up new prospects
As for prospects of gas hydrate deposits in Russia and their role as an indicator of deeper oil and gas fields, the Black Sea and Sea of Okhotsk as well as Lake Baikal water areas are mostly studied at present from this point of view.
The Limnological Institute of RAS Siberian Department researches gas hydrates on the bottom of Lake Baikal since 1997.  For this purpose, under supervision of O. Khlystov, the institute employees designed ships equipped with special hoisting devices to lift bottom gas hydrate samples.  For this period, hundreds of natural gas hydrate samples mainly tied to mud volcanoes were lifted and studied.  The institute developed and tested methods and ways to search for bottom gas hydrate sediments.
In 2007, the International Conference on Gas Hydrate Studies was arranged and conducted by the Limnological Institute of RAS Siberian Department.  During the conference, a technological expedition to Baikal Lake on the Limnological Institute’s research ships was conducted with successful sampling of several bottom hydrate containing core specimens.  Samples were taken at a water depth  of 1,371 meters and down to 2 meters under the bottom of the lake.  VNIIGAZ was represented at the conference by employees of the Geocryology and Hydrates Laboratory of the Gas Resources Center.  Scientists of both institutes planned further ways for perspective cooperation to research gas hydrates; a cooperation agreement was signed; and a decision was made to arrange 2008 expedition.  Technological expeditions to new and under-researched facilities with participation of young scientists have recently become a tradition of VNIIGAZ.
Arranging for 2008 expedition, VNIIGAZ invited several scientific institutions to join efforts, namely the Oceanology Institute (St. Petersburg) and Novosibirsk State University.  VNIIGAZ developed a vast research program for the expedition, including sampling of bottom gas hydrates from research ships of the Limnological Institute of RAS Siberian Department and researching a gas flare in the area of Selenga estuary.  The program was successfully implemented in full.
Unique bottom samples were taken and delivered to VNIIGAZ for further laboratory research under Gazprom’s contractual work.
By means of expeditions VNIIGAZ continues to optimize prospecting and exploration methods for gas hydrates. A decision was made to arrange for a new technological expedition in 2009.  During this expedition, it is planned to realize a full-scale submersion program using deep-sea vehicle Mir, in particular, to a submarine mud volcano called Malenkiy for refining a geological model and bottom morphology and for sampling.
This year, based on discussion of the expedition results, a proposal was made to arrange a joint integrated scientific research laboratory to study Lake Baikal gas hydrates on the basis of the Limnological Institute with participation of young scientists and specialists specializing in gas hydrate research.
At present, Lake Baikal is actually a natural testing site that can be used for testing modern methods to detect natural gas hydrates and for development of gas production from hydrates.
The Black Sea is one of the most favorable regions for development of gas hydrate and subhydrate accumulations of methane.  Besides, strong reduction of oxidizing processes caused by strong hydrogen sulfide contamination of the Black Sea aquatory is significant for gas and hydrate accumulations of methane in the Black Sea region.  Most modern authors evaluate the Black Sea as a perspective region for commercial prospecting and exploration of gas hydrate deposits.
Evaluations made by different experts for methane gas hydrate resources in the Sea of Okhotsk differ by 1-2 orders of magnitude: from 21,012 cu. m to 151,013 cu. m.  It is a great difference which proves that gas hydrate bearing on the Sea of Okhotsk bottom is insufficiently studied.  Nevertheless, even based on minimal resource evaluations, the Sea of Okhotsk region may be included in the most perspective facilities for prospecting and exploration of unconventional gas sources.  Besides, actual data witness that gas hydrate accumulations are tied to locus of methane unloading from underlying oil and gas fields.  It means that most gas hydrate resources may be in the concentrated condition, which significantly increases the gas recovery factor of gas hydrate deposits (up to 90 percent).
Therefore, the methods that are being optimized by VNIIGAZ’s scientists in Baikal will be applied in the near future during the technological expedition to the Sea of Okhotsk region, for field survey of bottom gas hydrate deposits that are of applied significance for the national oil and gas industry in interesting for Gazprom domains.
Thus, in the nearest years, bottoms of the Black Sea, Sea of Okhotsk and Lake Baikal will turn into sites for more intensive researches due to high prospects of hydrate and oil and gas bearing capacities.  It should be mentioned that in addition to the applied resource potential of hydrate and sub-hydrate deposits, hydrate bearing survey results for aquatory sediment sequences are of high significance for development of a number of trends in engineering geology and geoecology.
Recent researches conducted by VNIIGAZ specialists have resulted in development of modern calculation methods for phase equilibrium of gas hydrates by means of refined thermodynamics models of the gas hydrate phase, which are then reduced to simple engineering calculation procedures; a stricter balance calculation procedure is proposed to define a quantity of inhibitors required to prevent hydrate formation in the field systems; boundaries of balance procedures applicability are defined and analysis is conducted to define kinetics of hydrate formation inhibitor distribution by phases (water, liquid hydrocarbon and gaseous); jointly with UrengoiGazprom’s specialists, modern process flow diagrams are developed for recirculation and blowing of volatile hydrate formation inhibitor (methanol), including methods of inhibitor flow rate automatic control; principles are developed for rating and long term forecasting of basic chemicals (methanol and glycols) required by major industrial gas production enterprises.
Active researches are underway to study effects of delayed dissociation of gas hydrates; their results under Gazprom’s innovation programs can lead to development of new technologies for transportation and storage of gas in gas hydrate (solid) condition.

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