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Factors Limiting Potential of Evaporites as Hydrocarbon Source Rocks

B. J. Katz, K. K. Bissada, J. W. Wood

It is well established that evaporite-bearing sequences account for a substantial proportion of petroleum occurrences. Examples can be cited from the Mesozoic of the Middle East, the Cretaceous of Latin America, and many others. An examination of effective source rocks within these provinces reveals that carbonate facies generate the bulk of the hydrocarbons. The higher evaporites (gypsum, anhydrite, halite, etc) seldom contribute to the resource base. Geochemical analyses of the higher evaporites reveal low organic carbon contents and imperceptible pyrolysis yields. These observations are not consistent with many of the current concepts of organic matter accumulation in evaporite environments, which suggests that hypersalinity should be especially favorable because abund nt nutrient supply enhances primary productivity and elevated salt content enhances preservation efficiency.

Our recent studies on oxidation of labile phytoplankton remains and relative sedimentation rates of organic and inorganic constituents in hypersaline brines suggest that three factors contribute to the observed low concentrations of hydrogen-enriched organic matter in the higher evaporites: (1) the density contrast between hypersaline brines and suspended organic matter retards the settling rate of the organic matter and prolongs its exposure to oxidative processes; (2) high concentrations of sulfates, and possibly nitrates, provide a secondary oxidizer for labile phytoplankton remains; and (3) high precipitation rates of the evaporite minerals dilute any organic matter which reaches the sediment-water interface. This paper will examine these factors in the modern and ancient record a d discuss their influence on source-bed distribution through time and space.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91038©1987 AAPG Annual Convention, Los Angeles, California, June 7-10, 1987.