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Distribution of Organic-Rich Sediments Through the Phanerozoic

McCabe, Peter
CSIRO, North Ryde, NSW, Australia.

It is commonly assumed that rates of accumulation of organic-rich strata have varied through geologic time with some periods that were particularly favorable for accumulation of petroleum source rocks or coals. A rigorous analysis of the validity of such an assumption requires consideration of the basic fact that although sedimentary rocks have been lost through geologic time to erosion and metamorphism. Consequently, their present-day global abundance decreases with their geologic age.

Measurements of the global abundance of coal-bearing strata suggest that conditions for coal accumulation were exceptionally favorable during the late Carboniferous. Strata of this age constitute 21% of the world's coal-bearing strata. Global rates of coal accumulation appear to have been relatively constant since the end of the Carboniferous, with the exception of the Triassic which contains only 1.75% of the world's coal-bearing strata.

Estimation of the global amount of discovered oil by age of the source rock show that 58% of the world's oil has been sourced from Cretaceous or younger strata and 99% from Silurian or younger strata. Although most geologic periods were favourable for oil source-rock accumulation the mid-Permian to mid-Jurassic appears to have been particularly unfavourable accounting for less than 2% of the world's oil. Estimation of the global amount of discovered natural gas by age of the source rock show that 48% of the world's oil has been sourced from Cretaceous or younger strata and 99% from Silurian or younger strata. The Silurian and Late Carboniferous were particularly favourable for gas source-rock accumulation respectively accounting for 12.9% and 6.9% of the world's gas. By contrast, Permian and Triassic source rocks account for only 1.7% of the world's natural gas.

Rather than invoking global climatic or oceanic events to explain the relative abundance of organic rich sediments through time, examination of the data suggests the more critical control is tectonic. The majority of coals are associated with foreland basins and the majority of oil-prone source rocks are associated with rifting. The relative abundance of these types of basin through time determines the abundance and location of coals and petroleum source rocks.

 

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90155©2012 AAPG International Conference & Exhibition, Singapore, 16-19 September 2012