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$100 million for hydrocarbon exploration

December 1, 2009
by Norm Tollinsky
In: Research with 0 Comments

The Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) is teaming up with Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba to study the hydrocarbon and base metal potential of the onshore and offshore segments of the Hudson Platform, a geological region encompassing 25 per cent of Canada’s landmass.

Over the next five years, the GSC and the three provincial surveys will spend more than $100 million to better understand the thermal history of the region. Seventy-five per cent of the dollars budgeted will be spent in the Canadian Arctic. The remainder, topped up by matching provincial funds, will be committed to studying those parts of the Hudson Platform in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba.The oil and gas industry conducted 40,000 kilometres of seismic surveying and drilled five offshore and nine onshore wells in the Hudson Basin following the oil crisis of the ‘70s, but the consensus was that it was too shallow to “cook” the organic material in the rocks.”There are very good hydrocarbon source rocks in the region, but they’re immature,” said Denis Lavoie, research scientist and co-editor of the Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology. “You need to bring these rocks to at least 60 degrees Celsius to break down the chemical bonds in the organic matter.”

However, the jury is still out. The region is underexplored given its size and is still thought to have potential.

“The limited available geoscience information indicates that world-class hydrocarbon source rocks are present and very porous potential reservoir units have been identified, suggesting that petroleum systems in this area are certainly possible,” according to the GSC. “Similar basins in southern Ontario, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois are world-class hydrocarbon producers with potential for millions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.”

The project will define the basic elements of the hydrocarbon systems in the Hudson and Foxe Basins in the hope of encouraging industry to consider the area for future hydrocarbon exploration. Local gas resources, claims the GSC, could also provide a key commodity for the well-being and development of isolated communities in the area.

Thermal conditions in the Hudson Platform suggest it is more than likely an oil domain (gas requires higher temperatures), but thicker successions exist in the northern part of Hudson Bay and gas might still be possible, said Lavoie. “In Northern Ontario, young Devonian rock units have the potential to eventually generate shallow natural gas called shale gas, a new and exciting target currently being developed in northern British Columbia.”

Historical data

The GEM project began in 2009 with a review of historical data. Next summer, GSC researchers will focus on studying gas escape structures called pockmarks, which have been discovered in the northern part of Hudson Bay as a result of a seafloor mapping program by Laval University.

“Pockmarks are found in all world-class hydrocarbon producing basins, so we possibly have indirect evidence of hydrocarbon generation,” said Lavoie.

In 2011, the GSC will conduct seismic surveys in areas thought to have the greatest potential for hydrocarbon formation.

“It’s impossible to cover the entire basin because it’s too large and it would be too expensive, so we have to be strategic and identify the best areas for the acquisition of data,” said Lavoie.

The GSC hopes to conclude an agreement on collaborative research with the Ontario Geological Survey (OGS) before the end of 2009.

“For Ontario, it’s important, not only to understand what’s on the surface, but also what’s beneath the surface and what’s beneath that,” said Andy Fyon, director of the OGS.

The geoscience data acquired through GEM will contribute to land use planning in Ontario’s Far North and shed light on the potential for gas hydrates, ice-like substances composed of water and natural gas that form when gases, (mainly biogenic methane produced by microbial breakdown of organic matter) combine with water at low temperature and high pressure.

The work will also help geologists understand the pre-Cambrian basement, said Fyon.

“We know that in Manitoba and Quebec, we have copper and nickel. It’s the same package of rocks that forms the basement passing through Ontario, but we don’t have a good understanding of it.”

The OGS, said Fyon, will consult and work closely with the First Nation communities of Ontario’s Far North on the development of a work plan for the region.

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