Webinar “Yamal craters: new facts”

Arctic.ru has held a webinar to study craters now forming in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area. Anton Sinitsky, Ph. D. (Geology and Mineralogy) and Director of the Arctic Research Center, discusses their specifics and what causes their formation.

During the webinar, Anton Sinitsky made a presentation and answered questions.

Which term is correct, soil-heaving bulge or hydrolaccolith?

These are two quite different things which should not be confused. The former is a more general term. Some of my colleagues know all the nuances and differences.

What are the main current research publications on craters?

There are many. I took part in the research with my colleagues from the VNIIGAZ (Research Institute of Natural Gases and Gas Technology) and colleagues from the Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Siberian Branch. If you wish to read the publications, please address scientists from the Institute of the Earth's Cryosphere of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Siberian Branch. They are currently studying new items, paleocraters. There is also the Institute of Petroleum Geology and Geophysics of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Siberian Branch; VNIIGAZ also discusses these areas in its journals.

Did you read the most recent issue of the Inzhenernaya Geologiya journal on gas showings?

No, I didn't. We were all educated based on the classical school of organic theory of hydrocarbons' origin that rules out vertical channels of the mantle degassing. It is very risky to even pronounce such strong words at research councils. But there is an alternative opinion and the facts have been in its favor so far.

To my colleagues I recommend Shakhnovsky's book The Origin of Petroleum Hydrocarbons. The book does not only discuss petroleum hydrocarbons. Of course, it is superficial and raises many questions. You can also try Ivannikov's alternative view in Notes on the Origin of Oil and Gas Deposits.

Has this phenomenon been observed in North America?

I don't know if North America has the conditions I described, which is the strong sedimentary cover, 100 to 200 meters of permafrost. West Siberia is unique because a lot here is unclear. Yamal, for example, is it land or frozen slush? A half-degree change in temperature can have a great impact on gas hydrate layers. This is very important.

Take a look at the chart. Deep drilling, all reserves, the first Cenomanian horizon at 1,000 m and deeper. Engineering geology studies the depth of up to 20 m. What is at 50 to 100 m is of no interest to producers, while scientists have no capacity to drill wells. There was a company that drilled 150 to 170 meters deep at each field but it is not in business any more. We know very little about the first 200 to 300 m and the processes that occur there. Gas and oil producers are not interested in investing money in this and geo engineers do not need this.

Answering your question, if North America has a similar sedimentary cover with the same conditions as in West Siberia, I say, why not? I am not familiar with the geology of those regions and I cannot say if it is possible there.

Is there an integral online crater and vortex database?

The Institute of Oil and Gas Problems keeps a database on sites being discovered using satellite data. The Earth Cryosphere Institute probably has its own database. We provide them with data on new paleo-craters because it is important to study these things in a historical context. But I know nothing about an integral online resource.

Webinar participants say they are familiar with gas discharges in Canada and Alaska. Have you read the description of the crater near the village of Antipayut, and were any flares also recorded there?

No, I have not. Our colleagues from the Earth Cryosphere Institute are working there, and they are already preparing publications on this topic. In my report, I have dwelled upon those three sites I myself visited.

How many craters have been located in Yamal? Have you been counting them?

They are being counted, and not only in Yamal. Our administrative borders don't influence Nature in any way. One of the first craters was found in the delta of the Yenisei River, and it resembles our Yerkutayakha crater. I have heard about some other items, including the one near the village of Antipayut. Their exact number depends on what is actually counted. Some people see a lake and call it a paleo-crater. There are very many contentious issues here. Or an ice nucleus has melted away and flooded a nearby body of water; this process resembling an explosion is also possible. I am not ready to make any comments on this matter. I can only speak in detail about the things that I myself have visited.

Are there any paleo-craters near new craters?

It is necessary to superimpose items shown by me on those objects being singled out by scientists. Vasily Bogoyavlensky keeps a database at the Institute of Oil and Gas Problems, and the Earth Cryosphere Institute also has its own database. I don't have access to these databases and therefore cannot say anything definite.

Is it possible to predict this phenomenon?

According to some reports, certain gas companies drill potential craters and vortexes, or the above-mentioned soil-heaving bulges, and prevent various processes that may otherwise take place. It appears that, by gathering data, it will become possible to make more detailed predictions in the future, but I am now urging experts to study contemporary geodynamic processes.

Do scientists conduct any geochemical surveys prior to developing various deposits?

They don't conduct any geochemical surveys because it is not worth it. If seismic reconnaissance has singled out a positive structure, and if a deposit is located nearby, a well is merely drilled there. This well either confirms the existence of hydrocarbons, oil, gas and gas condensate, or it does not. It is up to fundamental researchers to conduct other seismic operations, magnetic reconnaissance and electric reconnaissance. And what do you mean by geochemical surveys?

You have mentioned high methane concentrations on the surface. Where were these concentrations measured? Were any special projects implemented at Tambei?

No, we did not implement any special projects. I showed, while drilling the well's head.

So, does this solely hinge on data readings inside the heads of wells?

Yes, I was lucky, and we siphoned off this gas during our work. It may be a paradox, but, as a geologist, I siphon off gas, send gas samples to a laboratory, and they don't even tell me about the results because this data is top-secret. And this is normal!

And when is it possible to say that excessive flows are recorded inside a deposit?

There are certain research findings. I have recently read an article about where correlation projects are being conducted and about the thickness of the layers of permafrost above hydrocarbon deposits. In effect, these surveys are also being conducted, but this amounts to extremely "pinpoint" research which is not confirmed by accumulated statistical records. Therefore it is still impossible to say that this is definitely so… We have siphoned off some gas today, but this does not necessarily mean that it contains methane. But I am reading a book by Shakhnovsky who writes that "it has been unequivocally proved that biogenic organic substance is being synthesized, and that this substance virtually does not differ from ordinary organic substance in terms of its chemical composition." This respected scientist somehow substantiates this statement. This is a lead for you, so that you could start untangling this web.