DISTRIBUTION OF HYDROCARBONS IN SEDIMENTARY BASINS

The importance of temperature

Research & Technology Memoir No. 7

The Golden Zone concept must therefore be seen as an exciting. although based on a wealth of genuine information. Olav Walderhaug and associates. Paul Nadeau. Eric H Oelkers and Nils E Aase. CONTENT Introduction Hydrocarbon traps Heat. if exploration geoscientists are persuaded to pay more attention to the importance of temperature in predicting the global occurrence of hydrocarbon accumulations. and the line drawings. AWARD Paul Nadeau received the 2000 Schlumberger Medal “in recognition of scientific excellence in mineralogy and its applications”. Stephen N Ehrenberg. Paul Nadeau* & Olav Walderhaug* Designer: Bente Lie. yet somewhat provocative addition to the overall exploration toolkit. pressure and diagenesis Confronting conventional wisdom Porosity. They would like to thank the following experts for helpful discussions on specific diagenetic aspects: Knut Bjørlykke. Per Arne Bjørkum*. No specialist knowledge of the subject is required. The award was presented at a meeting of the Mineralogical Society on the 4th of January 2001 in the Great Hall of Durham University (UK). the authors have done their job.2 MEMOIR SERIES MEMOIR SERIES This R&D Memoir Series summarizes cumulative achievements made by Statoil researchers and their associates in key technical areas: care is thus taken to differentiate between achievements made by Statoil alone and those resulting from external cooperation. GTS. partly before but mainly after they were employed by Statoil. Tim Dodson. Bill Maloney. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The research summarized in this memoir was carried out by co-authors Per Arne Bjørkum. Statoil publication was sanctioned by Ingve R Theodorsen. The text has been deliberately simplified to clarify the concept. Nevertheless. are likewise idealized models of reality. permeability and hydraulic fractures Porosity and permeability evolution in sandstones and shales Hydraulic fracture mechanisms Summary The Golden Zone concept and its implications Thermal zonation Practical implications Denouement Selective bibliography 3 6 10 14 AUTHORS’ NOTE The key to reducing exploration risk is the combining of geological and geophysical approaches. Antony T Buller (series author). Morten Rye-Larsen and John Reidar Granli. Ongoing research may also reveal unforeseen modifications or even chip away at some of the basic tenets. . Knut Georg Røssland kindly undertook a detailed review of the penultimate manuscript and Tony Boassen provided the ESEM/backscattered electron images. Statoil Research Centre Publisher: Statoil ASA Printer: Netprint Publication date: August 2005 *Contact for further information. The intended readership is anyone with a technical overview of the petroleum industry.

such as the Arctic and ultra-deep water Atlantic margins. the one shown here – an anticlinal fold – is perhaps the simplest. does not guarantee preservation. Oil generation may start at about 110 °C (and continue to about 140 °C). The trick. The charge system consists of organic-rich source rocks1 that are capable of generating and expelling hydrocarbons. is to find present-day traps whose cap rocks are intact. of course. Gas Oil Water Source rock . followed by gas generation at about 120 °C (or higher). Although there are many trap configurations. their kerogen content is chemically broken down and converted into hydrocarbons. Simply stated. The single-headed arrow depicts the primary migration of oil and gas from a maturing source rock into an overlying sandstone reservoir. mD) of the relative ease with which fluid flows through a porous rock. the entrapment of oil and gas depends on the timely coincidence and fortuitous arrangement of three geological components: a petroleum charge system. 2 Cap rock Gas-oil contact Oil-water contact Oil leg Shale Vertical closure ne sto and S Spill point Shale Shale The prerequisites of hydrocarbon entrapment and standard descriptive terms. This depends on the sealing capacity of the overlying cap rock sequence. however. irrespective of whether pores are interconnected or isolated. Permeability is a measure (in milliDarcies. During this process. explorers are increasingly turning their attention to finding subtle traps in mature basins and opening up challenging frontier areas. high quality reservoir rocks. 1 Source rocks normally consist of finegrained sediments (mudrocks and shales) that are rich in organic matter derived from marine or lacustrine algae and land plants. reservoir rocks and an effective seal Now that many of the world’s largest fields have been accounted for. This insoluble material is known as kerogen. Porosity is expressed as the percentage bulk pore volume of a rock. The time is therefore ripe to introduce a step change in the industry’s understanding of how hydrocarbon accumulation works. and must therefore have been originally deposited in wet. Accumulation. some of the escaping hydrocarbons may accumulate in reservoir rocks higher up in the sedimentary succession – a process known as re-migration. which is normally a low permeability mudrock or shale. muddy environments devoid of oxygen. Hydrocarbon traps A trap requires a charge system. As source rocks are buried deeper and exposed to increasingly higher temperatures. and an effective seal.INTRODUCTION 3 INTRODUCTION Statoil researchers have laid the foundation for a paradigm shift in exploration thinking that transforms perceived geological complexity into a global pattern of elegant simplicity. If the cap rock becomes fractured. The organic matter has to be insoluble to ensure its preservation during burial. the hydrocarbons move (migrate) through the source rock and are eventually expelled into the overlying sediment column where some of them may accumulate in reservoir rocks. starting with a summary of the basic principles. and whose reservoir rocks are (i) sufficiently porous2 to contain commercial quantities of hydrocarbons and (ii) sufficiently permeable2 to allow them to flow fast enough towards production wells.

100 150 t sta ho Lit ic Depth (km) 3 re ssu pre gra 4 t radien ure g press static Hydro Ram die p nt 5 The global average for sedimentary.) Heat. 6 7 50 Pressure (M Pa) Pore water pressure Overpressure Effective stress The depths at which overpressure ramps occur in nature vary considerably from basin to basin. Reductions in pore space also result in the expulsion of vast quantities of formation fluids from the rocks. These two curves define the limits between which the pressure of pore fluids in a sediment column normally varies. hydrostatic pressure is that imposed by a static. Pressure also increases with depth. which may occur as grain coatings. the Bombay basin) to less than 20 oC per kilometre in cold basins (e. sizes and interconnections of pores. These rocks are very similar to hydrocarbon-bearing intervals encountered in sedimentary basins beneath the Norwegian Sea. . o The difference between the normal hydrostatic pressure and that approaching the lithostatic limit is thus a matter of fluid containment. which define the average. Geothermal gradients can range from over 80 C per kilometre in hot basins (e. which usually lead to a loss in porosity and permeability. at and beyond the overpressure ‘ramp’ the fluid pressure at a given depth is considerably greater than the hydrostatic pressure. which is slighly less than that encountered on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS). All of these phenomena alter the geometries. Initially. This implies that if the water were free to rise in a borehole it would reach the surface. unbroken column of formation water held in the pores. 1 2 Generalized depth plot of subsurface pressure regimes on the Norwegian continental shelf. From the point of departure. which flow upwards through the sediments. which represents the total load of the overlying water-saturated sediments – the overburden.4 INTRODUCTION (Photos: Øyvind Hagen. linear rate of increase in temperature per kilometre depth of burial. but in a less obvious fashion. Statoil geologists studying Jurassic sandstone and shale sequences in East Greenland.g. often tend to cement and thereby strengthen the rock framework. This phenomenon is expressed by geothermal gradients. This is accompanied by a build up of overpressure and a reduction of effective stress (the difference between lithostatic and pore water pressure). sediment-filled basins. Note that the pore pressure ramp marks a departure of the pore fluid pressure curve away from the hydrostatic pressure gradient towards the lithostatic pressure gradient. In other words. diagenesis and fluid pressure Heat is largely derived from deep in the earth’s crust and flows upwards through conductive. The curve to the right shows the lithostatic pressure gradient. a state of overpressure is said to exist. pressure and diagenesis The predominant dynamic controls on hydrocarbon distribution are heat. With reference to the figure. oil-bearing basins is about 30 oC per kilometre. The deeper one drills.g. but at a certain depth in a given basin it swings towards the lithostatic limit. in parts of the Gulf of Mexico). and is therefore related to the hydraulic conductivity or overall permeability of a sedimentary succession. Both pressure and heat control diagenesis – the process by which unconsolidated sediments are converted with time and burial into sedimentary rocks through physical consolidation and compaction (mechanical compaction) and the chemical precipitation of new minerals (chemical compaction). pore linings or pore fills. the pore pressure closely follows the hydrostatic boundary. the hotter the rocks and their contained fluids become. New minerals.

such as the stratigraphic framework3 and the superimposition of tectonic and structural disturbances4. 3 Tectonic and structural disturbances are manifested as folds. quantitative models of porosity. However. and has important consequences on our understanding of hydrocarbon migration and accumulation. After 15 years of studying the diagenesis of sandstones6 and shales7 on the NCS. have to be predicted. faults and fractures. however. migration and accumulation. The distribution and arrangement of sedimentary strata. high porosity. Chemical compaction . Statoil researchers argue that beyond a certain depth the main controlling force behind the diagenetic reduction of porosity and permeability is temperature – not effective stress. which commonly take place over tens of millions of years. 6 Shales originate as watery mud and mudrocks that become harder during burial as the interstitial water is squeezed out. that is. permeability and pressure evolution in sedimentary basins have mainly been based on mechanical compaction. ranging from a shallowly buried. The initially loose framework or packing configuration of freshly deposited sand grains (left) is initially compacted by mechanical forces (centre) and thereafter by the chemical precipitation of quartz cement (right). can be indirectly – if somewhat coarsely – determined by using geophysical techniques and information from wells that happen to be in the vicinity of an enticing prospect5.) Confronting conventional wisdom Deep diagenesis results from thermo-chemical reactions Subsiding sedimentary basins are therefore dynamic entities when viewed over geological time. Up until now. A fault is a plane or zone of weakness along which rock masses break and whose sides are significantly displaced relative to one another. extremely low porosity. which is far from the truth. The validity of using effective stress as the controlling parameter for porosity loss at depth is hereby challenged. Porosity loss and permeability reduction should therefore come to a halt. sandstones are medium-grained sedimentary rocks that consist mainly of sand-sized grains of the mineral quartz (SiO2). it has been widely assumed that the same process (effective stress) controls the precipitation of mineral cements at deeper burial. This physically pushes loose sand grains. certain present-day geological features. 7 Mechanical compaction Quartz grain Quartz cement Feldspar grain Porosity Clay mineral Cartoon illustrating the mechanisms and thinning of sedimentary rocks during burial as a result of mechanical and chemical compaction. not least because the effective stress is at a minimum below overpressure ramps and may thereafter remain low and almost constant. They often contain about 70% or more clay-sized minerals. silt particles and clay minerals ever closer and harder together while the interstitial water is Deposition squeezed out. A fracture is a small-scale rupture that may or may not involve displacement. Compaction stages are schematically illustrated in the cartoon below. 4 A prospect is a potential hydrocarbon trap judged worthy of detailed evaluation. This mechanism works well for the early stages of burial. quartz cemented sample (right). As will be seen. yet controversial theory helps to transform perceived geological complexity into a global pattern of elegant simplicity. 5 Unless otherwise stated. Examples of sandstone compaction. Deep diagenesis consequently results from timetemperature controlled (thermo-chemical) reactions. which generate overpressure because the fluids are unable to escape fast enough through the rock matrix as porosity is reduced. But the crucial aspects of hydrocarbon expulsion. the total pressure exerted on sediment grain contacts by the overburden minus the fluid pressure. Porosity (and hence permeability) loss is thus thought to be controlled by effective stress. un-cemented sample (left) to a deeply buried.INTRODUCTION 5 (Images: Tony Boassen and Per Arne Bjørkum. this empirically verifiable.

14 to 15). This requires that the silica is sourced from the in-situ dissolution of the quartz grains themselves. In a seminal series of published papers (see pp. (Photo: Olav Walderhaug. there has been a divergence of opinion as to how this takes place. 1 A collective term for silica-dominated sandstones and shales. displaying well-developed crystal faces. the silica is sourced from the upward flow of formation water squeezed out from below.e. The rate of deep porosity loss is thus controlled by the rate of thermo-chemical quartz precipitation and the available area of the quartz grains over which quartz cement coatings (overgrowths) can be attached. which takes place at the interfaces2 between quartz grains and the minerals mica and/or illite3. they consist of microscopic zigzag surfaces between interpenetrating (dissolving) quartz grains. 3 Micas are sheet silicates. they argue that the process is time-temperature controlled. PERMEABILITY AND HYDRAULIC FRACTURES New approaches point to a common basis for describing all processes instrumental in reducing porosity and permeability in siliciclastic1 sediments.6 POROSITY. they differ radically by asserting that dissolution is governed by a pressureinsensitive chemical catalytic process. fluid migration and hydrocarbon entrapment. Remnant pore spaces are blue.) Sandstones One view was that the source of the silica needed for quartz cementation – the main cause of sandstone porosity loss – is largely external to the rock.5 mm A micro-stylolite (outlined in red) weaving its way between interpenetrating (dissolving) quartz grains. in the rock itself) and that the flow of water from beneath has little or no effect. However. However. All that is needed to predict porosity loss in a sandstone with a certain quartz surface area is a relatively straightforward estimate of temperature history. Porosity and permeability evolution in sandstones and shales Studies on the Norwegian continental shelf suggest that porosity and inter-dependent permeability loss are mechanically driven during early burial and thermo-chemically driven during deeper burial It has long been known that diagenetic changes in deeply buried NCS sandstones and shales involve widespread chemical compaction. micas and iron oxides. 0. as in any chemical reaction. which break up into thin elastic laminae and range in colour from transparent to silver and black. What’s more.0 μm Pore-filling quartz cement in the form of small quartz overgrowths.e. The concept of pressure solution as a mechanism for providing Quartz cementation is therefore described as a three-stage process: quartz grain dissolution. An alternative view was that the chemical processes take place in a closed system (i. i.) . 50. 2 The interfaces are micro-stylolitic. They are made visible by insoluble residues of illitic clay minerals. followed by diffusion of the dissolved products and precipitation – the latter being the slowest of the three reactions. (Image: Tony Boassen. PERMEABILITY AND HYDRAULIC FRACTURES POROSITY. It was also believed that chemical diagenetic processes cease in the presence of hydrocarbons. Illite is the name of a group of mica-like clay minerals. because hydrocarbons block the flow of water. that is. and depends on the effective stress exerted at the points or areas of contact of the quartz grains – a phenomenon known as pressure solution. and predicting their impact on pressure development. the source of the cement is therefore contested. Statoil authors and their co-workers agree that the source of quartz cement is indeed internal.

based on concepts by co-authors Walderhaug and Bjørkum during their earlier tenure at Rogaland Research. especially above 120 oC. It has also been incorporated in Aceca Geologica’s basin modelling program. Further simplification is achieved by refuting the idea that porosity reduction stops in the presence of hydrocarbons5. Without additional evidence. Traditionally. which predicts overpressure build up due to temperature-controlled diagenetic reactions. They convincingly showed that: (i) the precipitated illite occupies considerable volumes of pore spaces around dissolving smectite minerals (not in-situ replacement). which commonly undergo a widespread diagenetic mineral reaction that starts gradually at 60 oC when even minute quantities of the clay mineral smectite are converted to iIlite. Neither this nor the observed increase in pore pressure was ever satisfactorily explained. accompanied by an increase in the amount of free water and the concomitant development of overpressure. permeability decreases.e. however. the traditional principle of mechanical compaction is used because porosity loss is a function of effective stress. As illite has a smaller surface area than smectite.) These conclusions have been built into a commercial software modelling package.POROSITY. it may be thought that the porosity was lost through mechanical compaction and/or grain dissolution. Illitization commences at a temperature of about 60 oC. where there is no Smectite-illite transition. At temperatures below about 70 oC. the photograph on the right. Hard overpressure in sealed NCS pressure compartments starts at about 120 oC. (ii) the growth habit of the MICRO-DARCY SHALE EXEMPLAR™ was developed by Geologica (now Aceca Geologica) in Stavanger. Note the exponential increase in quartz cement and the rapid drop in porosity as temperature increases. . This paradox. which are too complex to deal with here. opportunity for the pressure to be reduced by fluids migrating through highly permeable rocks). The smectite dissolution products are re-precipitated as pore-bridging fibrous illite throughout a considerable volume of pore spaces in the vicinity of the dissolving smectite mineral. was resolved by coauthor Nadeau (prior to joining Statoil) and his associates at the Macaulay Institute. Smectite dissolution Smectite Smectite Other significant results are that: (i) at temperatures above 70 oC the rates of porosity loss due to quartz cementation – and therefore fluid expulsion – increase exponentially. At temperatures above about 60 to 80 oC. however. and (ii) at temperatures above 120 oC porosity loss is sufficiently rapid to generate hard overpressures where drainage is limited (i. 25 30 Quartz cement volume (%) 20 Sandstone porosity (%) 15 15 10 5 0 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 0 NANO-DARCY SHALE: Prone to overpressure Temperature (0C) Simplified graph of the percentage of sandstone quartz cement and sandstone porosity loss versus temperature for the Norwegian continental shelf. 0. porosity loss is modelled as a function of thermochemical reactions.2 mm (Photos: Olav Walderhaug. reveals that the porosity has been obliterated by quartz overgrowths coating the host sand grains. 5 This statement is based on sound scientific grounds. which at these temperatures is highly uncertain. thereafter increasing rapidly. However. it was thought that shale permeability would slightly increase. In practice. This greatly simplifies matters because it is no longer necessary to use effective stress as an input parameter. This is easily determined because the pore pressure is approximately hydrostatic. Fobos Pro. 4 Shales Broadly similar conditions apply to shales. this reaction has been ascribed to a process involving the in-situ replacement of smectite by illite. shows a quartz sandstone whose porosity has largely been destroyed. and has been purchased by many oil companies and universities for reservoir quality prediction. Norway. taken with transmitted light. taken with cathodoluminescence. PERMEABILITY AND HYDRAULIC FRACTURES 7 The photograph on the left. EXEMPLAR™4. This causes a dramatic reduction in permeability but has little effect on porosity.2 mm 0.

which strongly reduces permeability but has little effect on porosity. However. the thermally controlled ‘chemical pump’ will continue to work. this idea is untenable in the light of Statoil’s claim that thermally-driven porosity and permeability loss is the controlling factor for fluid expulsion.0 μm 50. Again conventional wisdom is contested by suggesting that ‘good cap rocks’ are fracture-prone! Temperature ( C) Thermal interval of illite formation Idealized graph of the diagenetic illite content in the clay fraction of Norwegian continental shelf sandstones versus temperature. until the permeability is so low that the pump is forced to create its own permeability in the form of open fractures. thus rendering the affected shales (and hence the deeper parts of basins) prone to overpressure development. the textbook view of what constitutes a good cap rock is that it should be as impermeable as possible or have the mechanical strength to withstand fracturing. The leakage of water or hydrocarbons through fractures would thus occur in fairly regular. Once fracturing has occurred. it is thought that the pressure rapidly normalizes and then gradually builds up again. The classical inter-dependency between shale porosity and permeability loss in the mechanical compaction regime therefore breaks down when temperatures exceed 60 oC. This is due to the precipitation of fibrous illite. This mechanism differs radically from previous thinking. PERMEABILITY AND HYDRAULIC FRACTURES 500. which causes a dramatic reduction in permeability but has little effect on porosity. A similar situation may pertain where pre-existing tectonic zones of weakness are (re-)activated. At temperatures above 100 to 120 oC. where fibrous illite cement has been precipitated in a pore bounded by a corroded feldspar grain (left) and a quartz grain (right). even though the fundamental rock mechanical principles of hydraulic fracturing are unchanged. because its minutness in shales is impossible to photgraph. However.) 6 Kaolinite is a common clay mineral formed by the weathering or alteration of feldspars and other aluminous silicate minerals. If so.8 POROSITY. this diametrically opposes the view that low permeability is the prime cause of hard overpressure and cap rock fracturing. intermittent bursts. 100 7 80 Illite in clay fraction 60 40 20 0 40 60 80 100 120 0 140 160 180 Cap rock integrity and re-migration Furthermore. Hydraulic fracture mechanisms Thermo-chemical driven porosity loss at depth sheds new light on the generation of hydraulic fractures and their role in hydrocarbon migration Conventional thinking also suggests that hydraulic fractures7 are triggered by overpressure development in the pore fluids of those sediments that are unable to expel their fluids fast enough. The central image shows a detail from the image on the left (within frame). and (iii) pervasive fibrous illitization leads to such intense subdivision of pore spaces that shale permeability is dramatically reduced. . The sharp increase in the percentage of illite corresponds to the thermal zone of illite formation between 120 and 150 oC. Examples of diagenetic fibrous illite cement are shown here in two sandstone samples. (Images: Tony Boassen.0 μm 10 μm precipitated illite is fibrous. The right-hand image (of another sample) shows the extremely delicate growth habit of fibrous illite. irrespective of the pore pressure it generates. permeability may theoretically be further reduced to levels as low as 10-9 Darcies due to the illitization of the clay mineral kaolinite6 – a condition that is obviously conducive to the onset of extremely hard overpressure. The fractures will typically remain open for several million years as long as the amounts of fluid to be expelled are greater than the amounts that can escape via the pore network.

. and (iii) extensive re-migration of hydrocarbons to progressively shallower traps via intervening shales. chemical compaction is largely caused by internally sourced quartz cement in sandstones and the precipitation of diagenetic clay (illite) in shales – the latter dramatically reducing permeability. severe porosity reduction and associated pore pressure elevation may lead to the generation of fractures propagating upwards through the cap rock. (ii) the fracturing of cap rocks whose properties were formerly regarded as favourable. Turning to re-migration. as the permeability of the shale matrix decreases over time. Where subsurface temperatures are greater than 60 oC. process-based zonation of hydrocarbonbearing sedimentary basins founded on temperature rather than pressure. Where subsurface temperatures are less than 60 oC. 2. Pore water pressures are either identical with or very close to hydrostatic. Everything therefore points to the existence of a general. the permeability of the fractures will be small. the belief that thermally mature source rocks will convert oil-prone basins into gas-prone basins no longer holds true. and may no longer depend on primary migration but on vertical migration from one sandstone body to another via lengthy fractures formed in intervening shales. shale permeability loss is so extreme that the accompanying loss in porosity triggers the development of hard overpressures and hydraulic fractures. there is a gradual transition from a mechanical compaction regime to a thermallydriven chemical compaction regime. the permeability of the fracture will increase. As a hydrocarbon trap subsides and eventually becomes subjected to temperatures over 120 °C. Initially. Summary 1.POROSITY. porosity and related permeability losses arise from mechanical compaction by squeezing out the interstitial formation water. However. These phenomena are largely related to the chemical compaction regime. 3. PERMEABILITY AND HYDRAULIC FRACTURES 9 Shale Hydraulic fractures on dst San Shale e 120 0C Gas Oil Water on dst San e Conceptual illustration of remigration showing the transference of hydrocarbons to higher level traps via vertical hydraulic fractures passing through intervening shales. it is an incontrovertible fact that hydrocarbons almost always lie uppermost in traps. Moreover. At and above these temperatures. They are therefore in direct contact with the overlying cap rock shale and will be the first fluids to leave a trap once the cap rock seal has been breached. Widespread hydraulic fracturing may result in: (i) vertical fractures in shales serving as hydrocarbon conduits directly linking source rocks to overlying sandstones reservoirs. The notion that most present-day traps have to be directly charged from active source rocks is no longer the single most important issue. At about 120 o C. simply because they are more buoyant than water. This conforms to conventional thinking and is easily simulated in predictive models. This means that hydrocarbons probably remain trapped for only short periods of geological time before escaping to a lower temperature zone in which they may re-accumulate in more porous and permeable traps. The important point is that once hydrocarbons have been generated. Prospects will therefore become increasingly separated from their ‘parent’ source rocks. The volume and discharge rate of hydrocarbons leaving the reservoir through fractures will therefore increase. they can sequentially re-migrate vertically through the overlying sediment column long after a source rock has ceased expelling significant volumes. because the oil may simply have been transferred to higher levels.

As seen in the idealized figure. The greater majority of them have been derived from producing fields. as it is impossible to undertake an independent quality control. Above and below these isotherms. What makes this result so remarkarble is that this global pattern is independent of location. Note that the overpressure ramps occur at different depths but coincide at the same temperature interval. . sedimentation rate. Thermal zonation The world’s siliciclastic basins can be modelled using an idealized thermal zonation scheme in which about 90 per cent of the world’s oil and gas resources are found between the 60 and 120 oC isotherms1 The assertion that overpressure development is controlled by temperature rather than effective stress is easily tested by plotting pore water pressure profiles in various worldwide basins against depth and temperature. 1 Basin A Basin B Basin C 30 Basins A. Temperature is thus the controlling factor. An idealized global model of fluid migration and hydrocarbon accumulation can also be constructed Depth (km) by combining the above results with the revised processes summarized in the previous chapter. powered by a thermo-chemical ‘pump’. which is bounded by the 200 oC and 120 oC isotherms. and is characterized by low permeabilities and (hence) high pore pressures capable of hydraulically fracturing the rock. B and C re ssu pre tic sta ho Lit re ssu pre tic sta ho Lit 2 60 3 Temperature (0C) 90 nt die gra nt die gra pre static Hydro pre static Hydro 4 120 5 150 t radien ssure g rad ssure g 6 180 ient Pressure Pressure Three idealized pore water pressure profiles plotted versus depth (left) and temperature (right). What’s more. This strongly suggests that the greater majority of hydrocarbons have been expelled to lower temperature intervals. hydrocarbon volumes fall off dramatically. The conceptual model consists of a threefold. basin type. Another general pattern emerges when the volumes of some 120 000 proven accumulations of oil and gas are cumulatively plotted against temperature2: about 90 per cent of the world’s oil and gas resources occur in a zone bounded by the 60 oC and 120 oC isotherms – the Golden Zone of Statoil. The ramps start at temperatures of about 80 to 90 oC and reach hydraulic fracture pressure at about 120 oC. The impact of this theory on exploration practice is potentially profound. much oil and gas will thus migrate upwards through hydraulically formed fractures into the zone above where the greater 1 Isotherms: lines of equal temperature. 2 The data have been assembled in a global database containing information from a variety of industrial. thermal zonation scheme. hydrocarbon volumes and the sizes of various fields. This is the realm of intensive thermo-chemical compaction. government and academic sources. All of the data have been taken at face value. According to this model. overpressure can typically start developing at about 60oC and reach near-lithostatic fracture pressures at about 120 oC. is where most hydrocarbons are generated from source rocks. The zone is therefore named the expulsion zone. If one knows the geothermal gradient. geological age. Even so. geothermal gradient. it is possible to predict the depth interval in any prospective basin in which the majority of hydrocarbons are likely to be found. the perceived geological complexity of subsurface ‘plumbing’ in general has been reduced to a well organized system dominated by just one parameter – temperature.10 THE GOLDEN ZONE CONCEPT AND ITS IMPLICATIONS THE GOLDEN ZONE CONCEPT AND ITS IMPLICATIONS The Golden Zone concept is an empirically verifiable theory showing that hydrocarbons in siliciclastic sedimentary basins of the world generally occur in a predictable manner controlled by temperature. only a minor percentage of the oil and gas is entrapped here. In other words. typical overpressure ramps occur at significantly different depths but combine when plotted against temperature. The basal zone. subsidence rate.

The Temperature (oC) majority of them reside. 60 90 GOLDEN ZONE 120 150 180 Oil (%) Gas (%) Idealized distributions of oil and gas volumes plotted against temperature. have probably migrated upwards from the underlying accumulation zone through laterally extensive sandstone or siltstone ‘carrier’ beds. pressuresealed compartments.THE GOLDEN ZONE CONCEPT AND ITS IMPLICATIONS 11 Sandstone porosities and permeabilities in this zone are still quite high because the volume of quartz cement is normally insufficient to fill more than a part of the available pore space. 30 ‘Sealing’ zone Temperature (oC) 60 Accumulation zone 90 Ram GOLDEN ZONE 120 p atic ost Lith sure grad atic pres Hydrost 150 re g ssu pre t ien rad 180 Expulsion zone Pressure (M Pa) ient Oil (%) Gas (%) Characteristic processes Terminology Composite thermal zonation model for siliciclastic basins. This is appropriately named the accumulation zone. The volumes fall off rapidly above and exponentially below this zone where the pore pressure is close to or exceeds the hydraulic fracture pressure. Here. 5 High API (American Petroleum Institute) values characterize light. leaving behind a viscous mass of heavier oil fractions. The accumulation zone is a zone of transition between the thermo-chemical compaction regime of the expulsion zone and the overlying mechanical compaction regime of the so-called 'sealing' zone. This is a common phenomenon in oil reservoirs where temperatures are less than 80 oC. which corresponds to Statoil’s Golden Zone (as defined above)3. These will occur where laterally extensive sandstones are gently deformed but have not been subdivided into non-communicating. carbon-rich deposits such as heavy oil. hydrocarbon volumes are low because the sealing zone is largely beyond the influence of vertical. 4 Biogenic gases are formed by the physiological activities of organisms (bacteria). Here. hydrocarbon-charged reservoir sandstones will act as combined pressure relief and separation tanks. It is also widely known that oil in this zone is vulnerable to bacterial degradation (biodegradation). whereas low API values characterize heavy. apart from local biogenic gas4. The upper limit of major entrapment – the 60 oC isotherm – is where hydraulic fractures are generally thought to peter out. 3 30 It is thought that about 5% of hydrocarbons in the Golden Zone will have migrated upwards via traditional fill/ spill mechanisms. Note that about 90 % of the world’s oil and gas resources fall within the 60 to 120 oC isotherms – the Golden Zone of Statoil. simply because shale permeability is insufficiently low for them to propagate through the rock matrix. Those hydrocarbons that are present. hydrogenrich deposits. . bacteria consume the lighter oil fractions. Indeed a plot of ‘heavy’ oil accumulations (API gravities < 25)5 against temperature (not illustrated) reveals that over 80 per cent occur at temperatures of less than about 60 to 80 oC. sealed by relatively impermeable cap rock shales that present insurmountable capillary barriers to the hydrocarbons but allow formation water to pass through them. at temperatures below 60 oC. fracture-controlled re-migration.

For example. Here the Golden Zone is only about one kilometre thick. when entering basins that have only been partly explored. With this in mind. sedimentary intervals progressively pass downwards through the various temperature windows (zones) as they become more deeply buried (dashed arrow). In hot basins. they do not contain hydrocarbons). the Golden Zone appears closer to the surface and is thinner than in a cold basin (right). If so. In the North Sea. which means that about 40 per cent of exploration wells have been drilled below the Golden Zone where the chances of discovering significant hydrocarbons are much reduced. resulting in the uplift and possible erosion of significant sediment masses.e. continued exploration in the basin should be questioned. is a grand statistical average. and the largest accumulation – the giant Mumbai High oil field – is encountered just 1. in cold basins. however. Comparing the skewed distribution with a normal distribution may therefore yield important information about the potential of neighbouring temperature intervals. with the highest volume concentrations corresponding to the 90 oC isotherm. which are subject to extremely low geothermal gradients. The greater majority of hydrocarbons. when entering unexplored frontier areas it would be wise to target prospects corresponding to the 90 oC isotherm.11) the global totals of hydrocarbon volumes describe a normal distribution when plotted as percentages.12 THE GOLDEN ZONE CONCEPT AND ITS IMPLICATIONS Practical implications The Golden Zone theory not only indicates where the greatest potential hydrocarbon volumes may be found but also contributes to reducing exploration drilling costs and improving safety hot Bombay Basin where thermal exploration drilling efficiency is estimated to be only about 10 per cent. Conversely. because subsiding hydrocarbon traps entering the expulsion zone will continually release their charge upwards due to hydraulic fracturing and re-migration (thin. but it is also expensive because exploration drilling costs increase exponentially the deeper one goes.4 kilometres below the surface. will always be concentrated in the Golden Zone. Golden Zones should be relatively close to the surface and cover relatively thin depth intervals of about one to two kilometres. it is reasonable to assume that hydrocarbon resources in certain individual prospective basins will follow a similar pattern once all possible hydrocarbon accumulations have been accounted for. Comparison of Golden Zones in hot (high geothermal gradient) and cold (low geothermal gradient) basins. At the other extreme. nt Oil (%) Pressure Basin C Oil (%) Golden Zone depths and thicknesses Another potential outcome of the concept concerns the depths and thicknesses of Golden Zones. Golden Zones should be deeper and may extend vertically over three to four kilometres. Depth (km) As the Golden Zone illustration shows (p. it is instructive to examine exploration drilling practices in both types of basin by comparing the (vertical) depths to the bases of proven hydrocarbon reservoirs with the total (vertical) depths of exploration wells. of course. they would be skewed). The reservoir temperature is 112 oC! Drilling unnecessarily below the Golden Zone may not only be risky in terms of the potential reward. The picture is considerably worse in the exceptionally DEPOSITION DEPOSITION DEPOSITION ‘Sealing’ zone ‘Sealing’ zone ‘Sealing’ zone Temperature (0C) 60 Accumulation zone 120 Accumulation zone HC Accumulation zone HC THE GOLDEN ZONE HC Expulsion zone 180 Expulsion zone Expulsion zone SUBSIDENCE (Depleted zone) (Depleted zone) SUBSIDENCE Time SUBSIDENCE During continuous deposition and basin subsidence. ‘thermal exploration drilling efficiency’ is estimated to be about 60 per cent. vertical arrows). 1 1 2 2 atic ost Lith atic ost Lith 3 3 pre t ien rad re g ssu pre re g ssu ie sure grad atic pres Hydrost sure grad atic pres Hydrost 4 4 ie rad nt 5 5 6 6 ient Pressure Basin A Uplift and erosion So far. If subsequent drilling shows that they are all dry (i. a normal distribution can be used as a predictive tool.e. one could anticipate that the distribution of discovered hydrocarbon volumes might deviate from the norm (i. This. Nevertheless. but many are subject to one or more periods of tectonic upheaval. Some of them do. . attention has been implicitly focused on sedimentary basins undergoing continual subsidence and sedimentation throughout their geological history. In a hot basin (left). which are subject to extremely high geothermal gradients.

and thus lack the means of relieving their pressure by lateral drainage. thus reducing drilling costs. uplift and erosion will contribute to the partial switching off of thermally-driven. November 2004. however. ASPO is the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas – a network of scientists affiliated with European institutions and universities having an interest in determining the date and impact of the peak and decline of the world’s production of oil and gas (www. If the former 60 oC isotherm has been moved to the surface (i. those with adequately preserved porosity and permeability – may be found as long as temperatures around 150 °C are not exceeded. The reason for this is that reservoirs are often broken into a number of compartments by impermeable (sealing) faults. the entire sealing zone has been swept away). involving thermo-chemical actions and reactions. This has led to a radical shift in thinking away from the mechanical approach to modelling basinal fluid processes to a more self-regulatory system. empirically verifiable global patterns – one for pore pressure profiles and one for volumetric hydrocarbon accumulations. fluid dynamic processes. Drilling safety and the environment Our ability to roughly calculate pore pressure curves in advance of drilling (using geothermal gradients) may also significantly improve safety and lower environmental risks. In these situations. If the former 120 oC isotherm ends up at the surface. peakoil. p.e. and (ii) exploration thinking should consider dispensing with reservoir quality as a crucial factor in favour of the thermallycontrolled likelihood of encountering hydrocarbon accumulations. and the evolution of shale permeability. the accumulation zone will start eroding and prospectivity will drop. because the sediments will gradually be moved closer to the surface where the temperatures are lower. DEPOSITION EROSION ‘Sealing’ zone EROSION Former 120 0C isotherm ‘Sealing’ zone 60 Former accumulation zone Deactivated expulsion zone Accumulation zone Former 120 0C isotherm 120 HC Expulsion zone Deactivated expulsion zone (Depleted zone) 200 (Depleted zone) (Depleted zone) UPLIFT SUBSIDENCE UPLIFT Time Uplift and erosion will lift a former accumulation zone (Golden Zone) to shallower depths and lower temperature intervals. and seem to act fundamentally in similar ways. and therefore initially hostile to oil-consuming bacteria. The main implications are: (i) drilling to depths where temperatures greatly exceed 120 °C is probably unproductive. The term refers to the common assumption that commercially viable reservoir rocks – i. Statoil’s paradigm is thus helping to transform geological complexity into a uniformity that was hitherto unrecognized. drillers will be well prepared to manage the increased probability of penetrating overpressured. simple. In this way. Siliciclastic basins can thus be examined from an entirely new angle now that temperature is recognized as the overarching control.THE GOLDEN ZONE CONCEPT AND ITS IMPLICATIONS 13 Temperature (0C) In general. a former accumulation zone may be partly or completely removed by severe erosion. the properties of the former zonation may essentially be ‘frozen’. As seen on the right. A recommended practice in new areas is to identify the depth at which the 60 oC isotherm is likely to occur and design drilling programmes accordingly. few hydrocarbons will be left in the basin. Denouement The Golden Zone concept has essentially evolved from new approaches to the established theories and descriptions of two key processes: the evolution of sandstone and shale porosity during burial. Be aware. both during exploration and production drilling operations. hydrocarbon-bearing sandstones. 6 Temperature control – a very important observation. The advantage of uplift and erosion is that the depths to potentially viable prospects are less.e. .10. The main disadvantage is the risk of biodegradation in those reservoirs that were originally relatively hot to start with. thereby diminishing the chance of potentially dangerous pressure ‘kicks’ (or blowouts). that overpressured reservoirs in the accumulation zone may be encountered in otherwise normally pressured sedimentary intervals. The amount of vertical displacement will obviously depend on how much a basin has risen and how much is eroded off the top. 47. The fluid dynamics of siliciclastic basins and their hydrocarbon systems are therefore more predictable and self-organized than previously thought. but it is unlikely that they will be hydrocarbon-bearing because (as already stated) the development of hard overpressure and hydraulic fracturing begins around 120 °C. ASPO Newsletter. Reservoir quality Another implication is that the idea of an ‘economic basement’ is devalued. As an ASPO website article6 puts it: “It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of (this) discovery in terms of evaluating world oil and gas resources and the status of depletion”. This may be so. What have emerged are two.net).

H. Ehrenberg. E.). Burial and contact metamorphism in the Mancos Shale.. P. P. 1981. G. Nadeau P.A. P. Temperature controlled porosity/permeability reduction. 20. Petroleum Geology Conferences Ltd. Bjørkum. Clay Minerals.H.. S. The Petroleum Exploration of Ireland’s Offshore Basins. S. & Torrance J. P. 1986. depth.. 1267-1274. P. Clays and Clay Minerals. Canada. 249-259. R. P. (eds).. ICC97 Org.H. ranging from the theory of fundamental clay particles to the empirical verification of the Golden Zone concept.H. D. Walderhaug. 13-19. P. 499-514. 1998. Nadeau.H.. Ottawa.14 SELECTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY SELECTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY A selective list of Statoil-authored and co-authored publications from 1981 to 2005. P. 1998. Comt. J.K.A. 809 p. I/S precipitation in pore space as the cause of geopressuring in Mesozoic mudstones. (eds).H. O. 1989.D. Peacor. 1538-1558. 1999.W. Bjørkum. Oelkers. Nadeau P. 36. Nadeau. & Vining. P. Clay Conference. In: Kodama H. & Reynolds. 1993. & Nadeau.. Nadeau P. In: Shannon. Bjørkum. Nadeau.N. 385-392. AAPG Bulletin. temperature. 237-239. P. American Mineralogist. Proc. N. London. P.H. 455-464. Nadeau. 233-235. Walderhaug. 1260-1286. 72-74. 29. Ehrenberg. 77. 1981.H. 1998. 1826. 74. (eds. Bjørkum. Walderhaug. 66(1). Porosity prediction in quartzose sandstones as a function of time. Haltenbanken area. mid-Norwegian continental shelf. C. 1990. Nadeau P. P. Preservation of anomalously high porosity in deeply buried sandstones by grain-coating chlorite: examples from the Norwegian continental shelf. S. A. Clays for our future. Norwegian Continental Shelf. 2002. 4. N. 2001.M. & Murphy. Nadeau. & Corcoran. 46. B. 82 (4). Formation of diagenetic illite in sandstones of the Garn Formation. AAPG Bulletin.. Clay Minerals. Pub. Relationship between diagenesis and reservoir quality in sandstones of the Garn Formation. S. O. & Walderhaug. 1987. Volcanic components in pelitic sediments. 87. & Nadeau. Thermally driven porosity reduction: impact on basin subsidence. 351-356. Yan.A. Petroleum Geoscience.H. hydrocarbon migration and biodegradation risks. 294. Nature. Composition of some smectites and diagenetic illitic clays and implications for their origin. and petroleum exploration in sedimentary basins. In: Doré. and hydrocarbon saturation. P. Fundamental particles and the advancement of geoscience: Response to ”Implications of TEM data for the concept of fundamental particles”.Proceedings of the 6th Petroleum Geology Conference.W. Nadeau P. Special Publications. & Reynolds.C. & Bain. Haltenbanken.R. 1997. pp. 1985. 453-464. Relationship between the mean area. fluid migration. & Nadeau. Bjørkum. 637-648. . 1409-1414. London. C. Haughton. R. Nadeau. volume and thickness for dispersed particles of kaolinites and micaceous clays and their application to surface area and ion exchange properties. The physical dimensions of fundamental clay particles. 1996. midNorwegian continental shelf.A. Clay Minerals.. APPEA Journal. 38. Ehrenberg. & Nadeau. Clays and Clay Minerals. Mermut A. 1998. published by the Geological Society. P.H... Canadian Mineralogist. 147-154. and Hiller. P. P. An experimental study of the effects of diagenetic clay minerals in reservoir sands. 34.A.V.H. 1998..A. 2005. P. stylolite frequency. Petroleum Geology: North-West Europe and Global Perspectives . D. P. 1580-1589.R. Geological Society. Petroleum system analysis: Impact of shale diagenesis on reservoir fluid pressure.H. AAPG Bulletin. M.H. Bjørkum. Physical constraints on hydrocarbon leakage and trapping revisited. Egersund Basin. D. O. 11th Int. How important is pressure in causing dissolution of quartz in sandstones? Journal of Sedimentary Research.. The fundamental particle model: A clay mineral paradigm.H. Clays & Clay Minerals. 188. 24.H. Ottawa. 22. O.H.

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com . E-mail: ktjmn@statoil.statoil.statoil.com Electronic versions: Statoil Intranet: http://intranet. + 47 51992010.statoil. (Statoil employees only) Also see: www. Trondheim.com/Technology Statoil ASA 4035 Stavanger.) Hard copies: contact ‘Ktj Servicesenter’. Norway Tel: + 47 73584011 www.The following material is also available: Milestones 2001 Milestones 2002 Milestones 2003 Milestones 2004 R&T Memoir 1 – Flow Assurance (2002) R&T Memoir 2 – Offshore Geophysical Methods (2002) R&T Memoir 3 – Offshore Produced Water Management (2003) R&T Memoir 4 – Geological Reservoir Characterization (2003) R&T Memoir 5 – Carbon Dioxide Capture.no/tek. Storage and Utilization (2004) R&T Memoir 6 – Liquefied Natural Gas: Snøhvit Process and Plant (2004) R&T Memoir 7 – Distribution of Hydrocarbons in Sedimentary Basins (2005) R&T Memoir 8 – Gas-to-liquids (GTL) Technology (in prep. Norway Tel: +47 51990000 Statoil Research Centre 7005 Trondheim.

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