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Organic petrology and micro-spectroscopy of Tasmanites microfossils: Applications to kerogen transformations in the early oil window

September 21, 2017

The transformation of kerogen to hydrocarbons in the early stages of oil generation is critical for understanding the resource potential of liquid-rich shale plays. Organic petrology commonly is used for visual evaluation of type, quality, and thermal maturity of organic matter, but the relationship of visual petrographic changes to chemical transformations is not well characterized. To improve understanding of these processes, organic-walled microfossils of the unicellular green alga Tasmanites (composed of algaenan) in Upper Devonian Ohio Shale (Huron Member, Appalachian Basin) were analyzed by micro-spectroscopy techniques including micro-Fourier transform infrared (micro-FTIR), X-ray photoelectron (XPS), electron probe microanalysis (EPMA), and fluorescence. Immature to mid-oil window maturation sequences of core and outcrop samples with solid bitumen reflectance (BR) and vitrinite reflectance (VR) values ranging from 0.45 to 0.80 %Ro were used. Hydrous pyrolysis was applied to low-maturity (BR: 0.25–0.39 %Ro) Huron and time-correlative New Albany shale samples to create similar artificial maturation sequences for comparison. Micro-FTIR spectroscopy revealed a decrease in the CH2/CH3 ratio with increasing maturity, indicating Tasmanites aliphatic chains become shorter and more branched. Oxygenated functional groups decreased relative to aliphatic stretching bands and increased aromaticity was noted at the highest maturities. In samples that were pyrolyzed for 72 h at temperatures of 300–320 °C (BR: 0.56–0.68 %Ro), Tasmanites showed similar trends, whereas at pyrolysis temperatures of 340 °C and higher (BR > 1.0 %Ro), Tasmanites was pseudomorphed by accumulations of solid bitumen, carbonate and sulfide. Replacement of Tasmanites by these phases in hydrous pyrolysis experiments ≥340 °C and its absence at higher maturities (peak oil, VR and BR ≥ 0.9 %Ro) in naturally matured samples, as documented in a previous study, implies that a large fraction of the algaenan component of original organic carbon is converted to petroleum during thermal maturation. XPS analysis indicated the molar proportion of aliphatic carbon increases with increasing thermal maturity, accompanied by decreases in oxygenated functional groups and olefinic carbon. EPMA of Tasmanites showed highest concentrations of S, with concentrations of redox-sensitive trace elements U, Mo, Ni and V generally at or below detection limits. Decrease in organic S with increasing thermal maturity may be related to cleavage of Tasmanites at CS linkages; however, this relationship was inconsistent and presence of adjacent or entrained nanoscale silicate or sulfide phases may impact measured trace element concentrations. Fluorescence microscopy and spectroscopy showed a red shift in spectral maxima and decreased emission intensities with increasing maturity, interpreted as due to non-radiative energy loss possibly because of increased aromaticity. Collectively, these results provide new insights into the in situ chemical transformations that accompany petrographic changes as oil-prone kerogen converts to petroleum with thermal advance from immature conditions into the mid-oil window.

Publication Year 2017
Title Organic petrology and micro-spectroscopy of Tasmanites microfossils: Applications to kerogen transformations in the early oil window
DOI 10.1016/j.orggeochem.2017.09.002
Authors Paul C. Hackley, Clifford C. Walters, S.R. Kelemen, Maria Mastalerz, Heather A. Lowers
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Organic Geochemistry
Index ID 70219137
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Central Mineral and Environmental Resources Science Center; Eastern Energy Resources Science Center; Geology, Energy & Minerals Science Center