The behaviour of CH 4, C 2H 6 and C 3H 8 in subsurface processes such as magma intrusion, volcanic gas discharge and natural gas generation have been examined from the viewpoint of chemical equilibrium. It seems that equilibrium among these three hydrocarbons is attainable at about 200°C. When a system at high temperatures is cooled, re-equilibration is continued until a low temperature is reached. The rate at which re-equilibration is achieved, however, steadily diminishes and, below 200°C, the reaction between the hydrocarbons stops and the gas composition at this time is frozen in, and it remains unchanged in a metastable state for a long period of geological time. Natural gas compositions from various fields have shown that, when a hydrocarbon system out of chemical equilibrium is heated, it gradually approaches equilibrium above 150°C. On the way towards equilibration, compositions of thermogenic gases apparently temporarily show a thermodynamic equilibrium constant at a temperature that is higher than the real equilibrium temperature expected from the ambient temperature of the samples; in contrast, biogenic gases indicate a lower temperature. In lower temperature regions, kinetic effects probably control the gas composition; the compositions are essentially subjected to genetic processes operating on the gases (such as pyrolysis of organic material and bacterial activity) and they fluctuate substantially. Examination of volcanic gases and pyrolysis experimental data, however, have suggested that the equilibration rate of these hydrocarbons is sluggish in comparison with that of reactive inorganic species such as H 2S and SO 2. The view presented in this study will be helpful in understanding the genetic processes that create oil and gas and the migration of these hydrocarbons and in interpreting the origins of magmatic gases.