Untapped gas reserves deep in the Earth?
Date: Tuesday, September 14, 2004 @ 01:29:12 MST
Topic: General


In an era of rising oil and gas prices, the possibility that there are untapped reserves is enticing. Since the first U.S. oil well hit pay dirt in 1859, commercially viable wells of oil and gas commonly have been drilled no deeper than 3 to 5 miles into Earth's crust.


But new experiments point to the possibility that chemicals related to oil and gas, and which could have similar uses, exist 12 to 37 miles below the Earth's surface, researchers say.

The discovery could have "huge implications for the ecology and economy of our planet as well as for the chemistry of other planets," said Princeton University researcher Freeman Dyson, who wasn't involved in the new studies.

The scientists found that deep below the Earth, there could exist hydrocarbons -- the class of chemicals that include petroleum and natural gas. They are called hydrocarbons because they mainly contain hydrogen and carbon.

Unlike traditional oil and gas, though, it appears these chemicals do not come from the decay of dead animals and plants. Instead, they come from simple chemical reactions between water and rock at the crushing pressures and high temperatures typical of the deep Earth.

The scientists ran experiments designed to mimic thse conditions, using materials common at the Earth's surace, and found that simple hydrocarbons such as methane were produced. They published the findings in the online Sept. 13-17 edition of the research journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The main author was Russell Hemley of the Carnegie Institution, Washington, D.C.

As depth increases in the Earth, the pressures can become so crushing that molecules are squeezed into new forms, and the infernal temperatures make matter behave much differently than at the surface.

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