As offshore petroleum exploration and development move into deeper water, industry must contend increasingly with gas hydrate, a solid compound that binds water and a low-molecular-weight gas (usually methane). Gas hydrate has been long studied in industry from an engineering viewpoint, due to its tendency to clog gas pipelines.
However, hydrate also occurs naturally wherever there are high pressures, low temperatures, and sufficient concentrations of gas and water. These conditions prevail in two natural environments, both of which are sites of active exploration: permafrost regions and marine sediments on continental slopes. In this article we discuss seismic detection of gas hydrate in marine sediments.
Gas hydrate in deepwater sediments poses both new opportunities and new hazards. An enormous quantity of natural gas, likely far exceeding the global inventory of conventional fossil fuels, is locked up worldwide in hydrates. Ex-traction of this unconventional resource presents unique exploration, engineering, and economic challenges, and several countries, including the United States, Japan, Canada, India, and Korea, have initiated joint industry-academic-governmental programs to begin studying those challenges. Hydrates also constitute a potential drilling hazard. Because hydrates are only stable in a restricted range of pressure and temperature, any activity that sufficiently raises temperature or lowers pressure could destabilize them, releasing potentially large volumes of gas and decreasing the shear strength of the host sediments. Assessment of the opportunities and hazards associated with hydrates requires reliable methods of detecting hydrate and accurate maps of their distribution and concentration.
Hydrate may occur only within the upper few hundred meters of deepwater sediment, at any depth between the seafloor and the base of the stability zone, which is controlled by local pressure and temperature. Hydrate is occasionally exposed at the seafloor, where it can be detected either visually or acoustically by strong seismic reflection amplitudes or high backscatter …