This article reviews the mechanisms of shale gas storage and discusses the major risks or uncertainties for shale gas exploration in China. At a given temperature and pressure, the gas sorption capacities of organic-rich shales are primarily controlled by the organic matter richness but may be significantly influenced by the type and maturity of the organic matter, mineral composition (especially clay content), moisture content, pore volume and structure, resulting in different ratios of gas sorption capacity (GSC) to total organic carbon content for different shales. In laboratory experiments, the GSC of organic-rich shales increases with increasing pressure and decreases with increasing temperature. Under geologic conditions (assuming hydrostatic pressure gradient and constant thermal gradient), the GSC increases initially with depth due to the predominating effect of pressure, passes through a maximum, and then decreases because of the influence of increasing temperature at greater depth. This pattern of variation is quite similar to that observed for coals and is of great significance for understanding the changes in GSC of organic-rich shales over geologic time as a function of burial history. At an elevated temperature and pressure and with the presence of moisture, the gas sorption capacities of organic-rich shales are quite low. As a result, adsorption alone cannot protect sufficient gas for high-maturity organic-rich shales to be commercial gas reservoirs. Two models are proposed to predict the variation of GSC and total gas content over geologic time as a function of burial history. High contents of free gas in organic-rich shales can be preserved in relatively closed systems. Loss of free gas during postgeneration uplift and erosion may result in undersaturation (the total gas contents lower than the sorption capacity) and is the major risk for gas exploration in marine organic-rich shales in China.

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