Source Rock Potential of Shallow-Water Evaporitic Settings
J. K. Warren
In the major evaporitic environments on the world's surface today, most organic matter accumulates in shallow subaqueous to seasonally subaerially exposed, algal-mat sediments. Given the present depositional setting, this organic matter probably could not be preserved to form source rocks. However, if we place such evaporite deposition into a geologic context, source rocks could have formed in shallow-water settings in the past. Such settings were characterized by hydrologic conditions that allowed the retention of hypersaline, anoxic pore waters to depths where the organic material was buried deep enough to generate hydrocarbons. When deep-basin, shallow-water, evaporite successions were laid down in basins such as the Mediterranean during the late Miocene, the Michigan asin during the Silurian, and in other large saline giants, conditions were right for source rocks to form within shallow-water and salt-flat evaporitic environments. The evaporites in these saline giants were deposited under conditions of relatively shallow water (< 50 m); the basin never appears to have dried out, but water levels changed quickly (~10,000 years) from shallow to deep. Continual water saturation coupled with saline pore fluids prevented the inflow of fresh, oxidizing ground water into the basin center of shallow-water organic-rich evaporites. Immature hydrocarbons derived from such rocks today drip from the 5.5-m.y. old evaporites of Sicily in active salt and sulfur mines. Organic-rich sediments could also be preserved to generate hydrocarbons in rapidly subsiding rif basins. In such basins, rapid burial has prevented the entrance of fresher oxygenated waters and the associated degradation and destruction of the organic matter. The early continental rift stage generates the source rocks; the ephemeral streams, wadis, and dune fields become the reservoirs; and the subsequent evaporite stage seals the reservoir.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91043©1986 AAPG Annual Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, June 15-18, 1986.