There are two main routes for geological methane generation, organic (thermogenic), and inorganic (abiotic, meaning non-living). Thermally generated methane, referred to as thermogenic, originates from deeper sedimentary strata. Thermogenic methane (CH4) formation occurs due to the breakup of organic matter, forced by elevated temperatures and pressures. This type of methane is considered to be the primary methane type in sedimentary basins, and from an economical perspective the most important source of natural gas. Thermogenic methane components are generally considered to be relic (from an earlier time). Generally, formation of thermogenic methane (at depth) can occur through organic matter breakup, or organic synthesis. Both ways can involve microorganisms (methanogenesis) but may also occur inorganically. The involved anaerobic and aerobic processes can also consume methane, with and without microorganisms. The more important source of methane at depth (crystalline bedrock) is abiotic. Abiotic means that the methane formation took place involving inorganic compounds, without biological activity, magmatic or created at low temperatures and pressures through water-rock reactions.

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