Crude oil degradation as an explanation of the depth rule
Previous studies of crude oil degradation by water washing and bacterial attack have documented the operation of these processes in many different petroleum basins of the world. Crude oil degradation substantially alters the chemical and physical makeup of a crude oil, changing a light paraffinic low-S "mature" crude to a heavy naphthenic or asphalt base, "immature appearing" high-S crude. Rough calculations carried out in the present study using experimentally determined solubility data of petroleum in water give insight into the possible magnitude of water washing and suggest that the process may be able to remove large amounts of petroleum in small divisions of geologic time. Plots of crude oil gravity vs. depth fail to show the expected correlation of increasing API gravity (decreasing specific gravity) with depth below 2.44 km (8000 ft.). Previous studies which have been carried out to document in-reservoir maturation have used crude oil gravity data shallower than 2.44 km (8000 ft.). The changes in crude oil composition as a function of depth which have been attributed to in-reservoir maturation over these shallower depths, are better explained by crude oil degradation. This study concludes that changes in crude oil composition that result from in-reservoir maturation are not evident from existing crude oil gravity data over the depth and temperature range previously supposed, and that the significant changes in crude oil gravity which are present over the shallow depth range are due to crude oil degradation. Thus the existence of significant quantities of petroleum should not necessarily be ruled out below an arbitrarily determined depth or temperature limit when the primary evidence for this is the change in crude oil gravity at shallow depths. ?? 1980.