Mechanisms Leading to Co-Existence of Gas Hydrate in Ocean Sediments

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In this project we have sought to explain the co-existence of gas and hydrate phases in sediments within the gas hydrate stability zone. We have focused on the gas/brine interface at the scale of individual grains in the sediment. The capillary forces associated with a gas/brine interface play a dominant role in many processes that occur in the pores of sediments and sedimentary rocks. The mechanical forces associated with the same interface can lead to fracture initiation and propagation in hydrate-bearing sediments. Thus the unifying theme of the research reported here is that pore scale phenomena are key to understanding ... continued below

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Bryant, Steven & Juanes, Ruben December 31, 2011.

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In this project we have sought to explain the co-existence of gas and hydrate phases in sediments within the gas hydrate stability zone. We have focused on the gas/brine interface at the scale of individual grains in the sediment. The capillary forces associated with a gas/brine interface play a dominant role in many processes that occur in the pores of sediments and sedimentary rocks. The mechanical forces associated with the same interface can lead to fracture initiation and propagation in hydrate-bearing sediments. Thus the unifying theme of the research reported here is that pore scale phenomena are key to understanding large scale phenomena in hydrate-bearing sediments whenever a free gas phase is present. Our analysis of pore-scale phenomena in this project has delineated three regimes that govern processes in which the gas phase pressure is increasing: fracturing, capillary fingering and viscous fingering. These regimes are characterized by different morphology of the region invaded by the gas. On the other hand when the gas phase pressure is decreasing, the corresponding regimes are capillary fingering and compaction. In this project, we studied all these regimes except compaction. Many processes of interest in hydrate-bearing sediments can be better understood when placed in the context of the appropriate regime. For example, hydrate formation in sub-permafrost sediments falls in the capillary fingering regime, whereas gas invasion into ocean sediments is likely to fall into the fracturing regime. Our research provides insight into the mechanisms by which gas reservoirs are converted to hydrate as the base of the gas hydrate stability zone descends through the reservoir. If the reservoir was no longer being charged, then variation in grain size distribution within the reservoir explain hydrate saturation profiles such as that at Mt. Elbert, where sand-rich intervals containing little hydrate are interspersed between intervals containing large hydrate saturations. Large volumes (of order one pore volume) of gaseous and aqueous phases must be transported into the gas hydrate stability zone. The driver for this transport is the pressure sink induced by a reduction in occupied pore volume that accompanies the formation of hydrate from gas and water. Pore-scale imbibition models and bed-scale multiphase flow models indicate that the rate-limiting step in converting gas to hydrate is the supply of water to the hydrate stability zone. Moreover, the water supply rate is controlled by capillarity-driven flux for conditions typical of the Alaska North Slope. A meter-scale laboratory experiment confirms that significant volumes of fluid phases move into the hydrate stability zone and that capillarity is essential for the water flux. The model shows that without capillarity-driven flux, large saturations of hydrate cannot form. The observations of thick zones of large saturation at Mallik and Mt Elbert thus suggest that the primary control on these systems is the rate of transport of gaseous and aqueous phases, driven by the pressure sink at the base of the gas hydrate stability zone. A key finding of our project is the elucidation of ?capillary fracturing? as a dominant gas transport mechanism in low-permeability media. We initially investigate this phenomenon by means of grain-scale simulations in which we extended a discrete element mechanics code (PFC, by Itasca) to incorporate the dynamics of first singlephase and then multiphase flow. A reductionist model on a square lattice allows us to determine some of the fundamental dependencies of the mode of gas invasion (capillary fingering, viscous fingering, and fracturing) on the parameters of the system. We then show that the morphology of the gas-invaded region exerts a fundamental control on the fabric of methane hydrate formation, and on the overpressures caused by methane hydrate dissociation. We demonstrate the existence of the different invasion regimes by means of controlled laboratory experiments in a radial cell. We collapse the behavior in the form of a phase diagram fully characterized by two dimensionless groups: a modified capillary number and a ?fracturing number? that reflects the balance between the pressure forces that act to open conduits in the granular pack, and frictional forces that resist it. We use all this small-scale knowledge to propose simple mechanistic models of gas migration and hydrate formation at the geologic bed scale. We propose that methane transport in lake and oceanic sediments is controlled by dynamic conduits, which dilate and release gas as the falling hydrostatic pressure reduces the effective stress below the tensile strength of the sediments. We test our model against a four-month record of hydrostatic load and methane flux in Upper Mystic Lake, Mass., USA, and show that it captures the complex episodicity of methane ebullition. Our quantitative conceptualization opens the door to integrated modeling of methane transport to constrain global methane release from lakes and other methane-rich sediment systems, and to assess its climate feedbacks.

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  • Grant Number: FC26-06NT43067
  • DOI: 10.2172/1084470 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 1084470
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc843077

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  • December 31, 2011

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  • May 19, 2016, 9:45 a.m.

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  • May 17, 2019, 5:45 p.m.

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Bryant, Steven & Juanes, Ruben. Mechanisms Leading to Co-Existence of Gas Hydrate in Ocean Sediments, report, December 31, 2011; Austin, Texas. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc843077/: accessed May 23, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.