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Oil Hydrocarbon)

Oil Hydrocarbon)

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Published by: Jay_CRE on Oct 07, 2011
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04/10/2013

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Many theories about primary migration (expulsion) have been popular at various times, but those
that have been discounted will not be discussed here. Today there are only three mechanisms of
primary migration that are given serious consideration by most petroleum geochemists: diffusion,
oil-phase expulsion, and solution in gas.
Diffusion has been shown to be active on at least a minor scale and over short distances in carefully
studied cores. Its importance is probably limited to the edges of thick units or to thin source beds.
Furthermore, it is probably most effective in immature rocks, where pre-existing light hydrocarbons
bleed out of the rocks prior to the onset of significant generation and expulsion.
The main problem with diffusion as an important mechanism of migration is that diffusion is by
definition a dispersive force, whereas accumulation of hydrocarbons requires concentration.
Diffusion would therefore have to be coupled with a powerful concentrating force to yield
accumulations of appreciable size. During intense hydrocarbon generation, any contribution by
diffusion will be overwhelmed by that from other expulsion mechanisms.
By far the most popular mechanism invoked today to explain primary migration is expulsion of
hydrocarbons in a hydrophobic (oily) phase. There appear to be three distinct ways in which oil-
phase expulsion can occur. One occurs most commonly as a result of microfracturing induced by
overpressuring during hydrocarbon generation. When the internal pressures exceed the strength of
the rock, microfracturing occurs, particularly along lines of weakness such as bedding planes.
Laminated source rocks may therefore expel hydrocarbons with greater efficiency than massive
rocks. Once the internal pressure has returned to normal, the microfractures heal. The hydrocarbons
within the pores then become isolated again because of the impermeability of the waterwet source
rocks to hydrocarbons, and overpressuring commences anew. Many cycles of pressure buildup,
microfracturing, expulsion, and pressure release can be repeated.
An important implication of the microfracturing model is that expulsion cannot take place until the
strength of the source rock has been exceeded. Based on empirical evidence, Momper (1978)
suggested that in most cases no microfracturing or expulsion could occur until a threshold amount of
bitumen had been generated in the source rock. Although the exact threshold value must vary
considerably as a function of rock lithology and other factors, Momper's value has been widely
accepted as a reasonable average.

Migration - 30

Once the threshold has been exceeded, most of the hydrocarbons are expelled, but a large
proportion of NSO compounds and heavier hydrocarbons are left behind. Thus inefficiency of
expulsion is responsible for much of the difference in composition of bitumen and petroleum that
we noted earlier. Primary migration is unquestionably the most difficult part of the entire migration
process. Therefore the threshold must represent not only a hurdle to be cleared by the bitumen
before it can leave the source rock, but also an "exit tax."
We can only estimate the fraction of the bitumen left in the source rock during microfracture-
induced expulsion. By comparing the average hydrocarbon compositions of bitumen and crude oil,
and assuming that expulsion of hydrocarbons is ten times as efficient as expulsion of NSO
compounds, we can estimate that once the expulsion threshold is reached the expulsion efficiency
for bitumen is about 50%. Of course, this approach is rather approximate, but it does give some
idea of the efficiency of expulsion.
A second way in which oil-phase expulsion can occur is from very organic-rich rocks prior to the
onset of strong hydrocarbon generation. This expulsion process probably releases internal pressures
in the rock, but the mechanism by which overpressuring is achieved is not understood. The organic
matter expelled consists mainly of lipids that were present in the sediment during deposition and
diagenesis. Therefore, this early expulsion mechanism seems to be limited to rocks having very high
original contents of lipids.
Finally, oil-phase expulsion can take place when bitumen forms a continuous network that replaces
water as the wetting agent in the source rock. Expulsion of hydrocarbons is facilitated because
water-mineral and water-water interactions no longer need be overcome. This type of expulsion is
probably only operative in very rich source rocks during the main phase of oil generation.
The third mechanism, expulsion of oil dissolved in gas, requires that there be a separate gas phase.
Such a phase could only exist where the amount of gas far exceeds the amount of liquid
hydrocarbons; therefore, it would be expected only in the late stages of catagenesis or in source
rocks capable of generating mainly gas. Because neither case is of great general significance for
petroleum formation, we conclude that solution in gas is a minor mechanism for oil expulsion.

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