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Scientist claims Siberian craters could be caused by natural gas exploitation

03 April 2018

Unexplained craters in Siberia that first appeared in 2014 were initially thought to be caused by natural underground methane eruptions in thawing permafrost. But now, Russia's leading authority on the phenomenon claims that many explosions may have been triggered by the large-scale exploitation of natural gas in the region.

Image: Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous regional government
Image: Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous regional government

Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky of the Russian Oil and Gas Research Institute in Moscow told the Siberian Times he now suspected human activities were involved in the formation of the craters on the Yamal peninsula, some of them hundreds of metres wide. Leaks from gas wells could lead to unstable pockets of methane accumulating under frozen soil, he said.

Initially the gas caused the formation of pingos - ice mounds - in the tundra which explode when the gas builds up under a thick cap of ice, causing the craters. In an earlier report, he said that swelling pingos were a problem in the area because of their effect on pipelines and other infrastructure.

He said satellite data showed 7,000 pingos in the region, some close to industrial infrastructure and human habitation. Some were underneath or next to pipelines that were being deformed by pressure from the swelling pingo.

One large crater which exploded in the middle of the Mordy-Yakha River had only natural causes, said Bogoyavlensky, but it may not be typical. He also confirmed that some craters erupted repeatedly, rather than on a one-off basis.

He called for more seismic stations to monitor potential explosions close to gas pipelines or residential areas.

Gazprom has 11 gas fields and 15 oil, gas and condensate fields on the Yamal Peninsula and its adjacent offshore areas. They consist of 16 trillion cubic meters (tcm) of explored and provisionally evaluated gas reserves, and nearly 22 tcm of in-place and forecast gas reserves. Estimated condensate reserves are 230.7 million tonnes; estimated oil reserves are 291.8 million tonnes.

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