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Biogenic gas is generated at low temperatures by decomposition of organic matter by anaerobic microorganisms. More than 20% of the world's discovered gas reserves are of biogenic origin. A higher percentage of gases of predominantly biogenic origin will be discovered in the future. Biogenic gas is an important target for exploration because it occurs in geologically predictable circumstances and in areally widespread, large quantities at shallow depths.
In rapidly accumulating marine sediments, a succession of microbial ecosystems leads to the generation of biogenic gas. After oxygen is consumed by aerobic respiration, sulfate reduction becomes the dominant form of respiration. Methane generation and accumulation become dominant only after sulfate in sediment pore water is depleted. The most important mechanism of methane generation in marine sediments is the reduction of CO2 by hydrogen (electrons) produced by the anaerobic oxidation of organic matter. CO2 is the product of either metabolic decarboxylation or chemical decarboxylation at slightly higher temperatures. The factors that control the level of methane production after sediment burial are anoxic environment, sulfate-deficient environment, low temperatu e, availability of organic matter, and sufficient space. The timing of these factors is such that most biogenic gas is generated prior to burial depths of 1,000 m.
In marine sediments, most of the biogenic gas formed can be retained in solution in the interstitial (pore) waters because of higher methane solubility at the higher hydrostatic pressures due to the weight of the overlying water column. Under certain conditions of high pressures and (or) low temperatures, biogenic methane combines with water to form gas hydrates.
Biogenic gas usually can be distinguished from thermogenic gas by chemical and isotopic analyses. The hydrocarbon fraction of biogenic gas consists predominantly of methane. The presence of as much as 2% of heavier hydrocarbons can be attributed to admixture of minor thermogenic gas due to low-temperature degradation of organic matter. The amounts of hydrocarbon components other than methane generally are proportional to temperature, age, and organic-matter content of the sediments. Biogenic methane is enriched in the light isotope 12C (^dgr13C1 lighter than -55 ppt) owing to kinetic isotope fractionation by methanogens. The variations in isotopic composition of biogenic methane are controlled primarily by ^dgr13C of the original CO2 substrate, which reflects the net isotopic effect of both addition and removal of CO2. The methane isotopic composition also can be affected by mixing of isotopically heavier thermogenic gas. The possible complicating factors require that geologic, chemical, and isotopic evidence be considered in attempts to interpret the origin of gas accumulations.
Accumulations of biogenic gas have been discovered in Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Trinidad, the United States, and USSR in Cretaceous and younger rocks, at less than 3,350 m of burial, and in marine and nonmarine rocks. Other gas accumulations of biogenic origin have undoubtedly been discovered; however, data that permit their recognition are not available.
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