In a recent Forum article in Eos (“Methane in Association With Seismic Activity,” June 14, 1983, p. 410), R. S. Oremland presents observations which he claims contradict the deep methane gas hypothesis. His principal case rests on observations of one M 5.7 earthquake near the volcanic area of Mammouth Lakes, California, which did not result in any increase in methane content of gases in four local seeps.
In our published discussions of the deep gas hypothesis [Gold and Soter, 1980, 1982], we proposed (1) that outgassing from mantle depths is an ongoing process both in volcanic and nonvolcanic regions; (2) that the gases CO2 and CH4 are the principal carriers of the surface excess carbon; (3) that chemical equilibrium between CO2 and CH4 in the presence of hot or liquid rock is strongly shifted towards CO2, especially in the low pressure domain, and that therefore active volcanic or high heat flow regions would be less likely to exhibit CH4; and (4) that faultlines, particularly those which are seismically active, are locations where outgassing in cool regions can be sampled. The evidence there is that flames from the ground are often seen in association with major earthquakes. (Just as in many mud volcano eruptions, ignition of combustible gases can be attributed to electrostatic effects.) Methane is also observed in many of the major crustal rifts, together with helium having the high 3He to 4He ratio indicative of deep origin [Lupton, 1983].