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Diagenetic Evolution of Porosity in Carbonates during Burial

Art Saller
Stratigrapher and Exploration Geologist, Cobalt International Energy, Houston, Texas
([email protected])

The diagenetic evolution of porosity and permeability in carbonates is complex and involves a number of independent factors. Carbonate sediments start with 40-80% porosity and generally lose porosity with time and burial (Schmoker and Halley, 1982), however there are many factors that cause higher and lower porosity in carbonates of the same age and burial depth. Alteration of carbonate sediments during shallow burial is common and includes diagenesis in seawater shortly after deposition, freshwater diagenesis during subaerial exposure, and dolomitization in hypersaline waters. Marine (seawater) diagenesis varies with depth and carbonate saturation as is shown on Enewetak Atoll. Aragonite and Mg-calcite cementation dominate in shallow seawater; however aragonite is dissolved and radiaxial calcite precipitates in moderately deep seawater. In even deeper seawater, calcite dissolves and dolomite precipitates. Freshwater (meteoric) diagenesis and dolomitization commonly rearrange and decrease porosity, but they also impart strength to the rock that reduces porosity loss during deeper burial. Pennsylvanian limestones in west Texas show that prolonged subaerial exposure progressively decreases matrix porosity but increases conduit porosity (fractures and vugs), and hence, formation permeability. Reflux dolomitization is commonly associated with carbonates in arid climates like the Permian of the Permian Basin. The porosity and permeability of reflux dolomites varies according to position in the dolomitizing system with less porosity and permeability in proximal parts of the dolomitizing system. Dolomitization decreases rate of porosity loss with burial (Schmoker and Halley, 1982) allowing some porous dolomite reservoirs like the Smackover of south Alabama at depths of 16,000-18,000 feet. Deep burial dissolution increasing porosity is the exception, rather than the rule. In summary, unlike quartzose sandstones, a complex array of diagenetic factors generally affect the ultimate porosity, permeability and production of carbonate reservoirs.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90159©2012 AAPG Foundation Distinguished Lecturer Series 2012-2013.