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Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’

By Anna Liesowska, Svetlana Skarbo
29 January 2021

More than 7,000 pepper the Yamal peninsula, world’s biggest natural gas reserve, and many may be ticking time bombs.

Four critical zones with the highest risk of gas explosions were revealed: the Seyakha zone with an epicentre in 28 kilometres from Seya-Kha village; North-Tambey zone, in the South Tambey field, with the epicentre 17 kilometres from the village of Sabetta, Russia’s major LNG exporting port, and the West Seyakya field zone. Picture: Vasily Bogoyavlensky

A call for a lot more attention to the ‘world gas pantry’ comes from a team of Russian scientists from the Oil and Gas Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Science (OGRI RAS), who have spent years studying Yamal’s permafrost so-called heave, or heaving mounds after the first major explosion of one of them was recorded in autumn 2013. 

A total of 20 have erupted since on the Yamal and the nearby Gydan peninsula, with the latest explosion in summer 2020 leaving a 32-35 metres (131ft) deep crater.

Chunks of soil and ice were flung dozens of metres from the epicentre. 

These explosions, recorded both on the ground and under water in lakes and rivers of the Yamal peninsula are believed to be caused by the build up of methane gas in pockets of thawing permafrost including the ground ice under the surface. The swollen pingo-like formations erupt with gas blowing off thick caps of soil, shooting out chunks of ground ice and soil as large as 100-150 cubic metres, as happened in 2017 when the Seyakha PMH exploded.

Another huge explosion followed a year later in 2019, when reindeer herders who happened to be close to lake Otkrytie witnessed a mighty eruption with large pieces of ice flying in the air.

Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’


Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’


Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’


Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’


Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’


Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’


Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’
Professor Bogoyavlensky (pictured by one of the Yamal craters) said: ‘Now we have the full understanding of the nature of these gas mounds, we understand which types of them are potentially dangerous, but we can’t yet predict which of them will explode based on remote sensing. Pictures: Vasily Bogoyavlensky, The Siberian Times


A database has been created of 7,185 so-called permafrost heave mounds (PMH) on the Yamal and Gydan peninsula, with many in areas of major gas extracting and processing projects such as the gigantic Yamal LNG, the Bovanenkovo, the Novoportovskoye and the South-Tambey oil and gas condensate fields. 

‘We think approximately that not more then five to ten per cent of these 7,185 mounds are really dangerous’, said Professor Vasily Bogoyavlensky, who with the team of colleagues from OGRI RAS has been using satellite images, digital surface models, seismic sensors, drone and ground surveillance to gather the up-to-date map.

What is currently missing is the map of the mounds that will definitely explode, which is one of the reason of why Professor Bogoyavlensky is calling to use all available methods to create a 24/7 monitoring system, given how dangerous it would be to have one of the mounds blowing up by or under currently existing infrastructure. 

To explain the maps (above), Professor Bogoyavlensky said: ‘Now we have the full understanding of the nature of these gas heave mounds, we understand which types of them are potentially dangerous, but we can’t yet predict which of them will explode based on remote sensing. 

‘A combination of methods is needed. So far we revealed and mapped 7,185 permafrost heave mounds, over 1800 zones of active gas emission from craters in Yamal thermokarst lakes and marked potentially dangerous areas with settlements and infrastructure sites on them.’

Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’


Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’


Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’


Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’


Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’
Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’. More than 7,000 pepper the Yamal peninsula, world’s biggest natural gas reserve, and many may be unstable. The team has prepared detailed guidelines for one of Russia’s major gas producing companies, which should help to decrease the risk to their sites. Pictures of 2013 crater Vasily Bogoyavlensky, The Siberian Times


‘For the first time in the world we proved that underwater explosive power was the same as on land. During the 2018 Lake Otkrytie explosion, its 1.5 metre thick ice cover was broken, with the pieces of ice scattered as far as 50 metres’, he said. 

Four critical zones with the highest risk of gas explosions were revealed: the Seyakha zone with an epicentre in 28 kilometres from Seya-Kha village; North-Tambey zone, in the South Tambey field, with the epicentre 17 kilometres from the village of Sabetta, Russia’s major LNG exporting port, and the West Seyakya field zone. 

All four dangerous zones are linked to gas fields, namely to the Bovanenkovo, Novoportovskoye and South-Tambey oil and gas condensate fields, unique in terms of the complexity of construction and operation, and the world's northernmost plant for liquefaction of natural gas 'Yamal LNG' costing $27 billion at Sabetta. 

One of Yamal peninsula's permafrost heave (or heaving) mounds before and after explosion. Pictures and video: Vesti Yamal, Vasily Bogoyavlensky

Scientists call for urgent increase in monitoring potentially-explosive permafrost 'heave mounds’


Comments (2)

Trillions of dollars in nature gas reserves, wasted, completely overlooked, bring natural gas development to the region before it is too late.
Jared Jankovitics, Karabalyk Қарабалық Kazakhstan
12/02/2021 17:31
8
16
Putin needs to go more urgently than the methane holes, Free Aleksei Navalny !
Russians deserves to have a better life not just a few corrupts, with Black Sea villas.
Joe, United States
05/02/2021 11:42
16
23
1

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