--> Evolution of Molecular Geochemistry in Petroleum Exploration and Development Since Treibs (1936)

AAPG Hedberg Conference, The Evolution of Petroleum Systems Analysis

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Evolution of Molecular Geochemistry in Petroleum Exploration and Development Since Treibs (1936)


Organic geochemistry is a young science (Kvenvolden, 2006). Alfred Treibs (1899‐1983) is recognized as the father of organic geochemistry based on his milestone paper showing the link between chlorophyll in plants and porphyrins in petroleum, thus providing the first strong evidence for the organic origin of petroleum (Treibs, 1936). The Alfred E. Treibs Award is presented annually by the Organic Geochemistry Division of the Geochemical Society for major achievements in organic geochemistry. Treibs and 16 of the 32 Treibs medalists in Figure 1 are underlined in the following discussion. Early applications of organic geochemistry were mainly molecular geochemistry, which is a hybrid of natural product chemistry, analytical chemistry, synthetic organic chemistry, physical organic chemistry, and geology. Little progress was made in molecular geochemistry for >30 years after Treibs (1936), until the development of computerized gas chromatography‐ mass spectrometry. Today, molecular geochemistry and its repertoire of analytical tools are vital components in the exploration and production departments of the major oil companies and at many universities and government organizations. Some textbooks that discuss molecular geochemistry include Tissot and Welte (1984), Moldowan et al. (1992), Hunt (1996), Peters et al. (2005), and Dembicki, (2017). This paper focuses on conceptual milestones in the application of molecular geochemistry to petroleum exploration and development. (Clifford Walters will discuss analytical milestones in another paper from this conference.) Cited publications for each conceptual milestone listed below are examples and are not meant to be comprehensive. Past‐Present Conceptual Milestones • Biomarkers as molecular fossils (Eglinton et al., 1964; Philippi, 1965; Eglinton and Calvin, 1967) • Petroleum system concept, direct oil‐source correlation (Hunt and Jamieson, 1956; Dow, 1974; Williams, 1974; Seifert, 1977; Seifert et al., 1981; Perrodon, 1992; Magoon and Dow, 1994) 1 • Source‐related biomarker ratios, indirect oil‐source correlation (Maxwell et al., 1972; Didyk et al., 1978; Huang and Meinshein, 1979; Seifert and Moldowan, 1978; Moldowan et al., 1985; Sinninghe Damsté et al., 1995; Koopmans et al., 1996a; Grice et al., 1998) • Chemometrics of biomarker and isotopic data for correlation, deconvoluting mixtures (Peters et al., 1986, 2007, 2008; Zumberge, 1987) • Compound‐specific isotope analysis (CSIA) for correlation: alkanes, biomarkers, diamondoids (Matthews and Hayes, 1978; Hayes et al., 1990; Schoell et al., 1992; Peters and Creaney, 2004; Greenwood et al., 2015; Moldowan et al., 2017) • Age‐related biomarker ratios (Grantham and Wakefield, 1988; Moldowan et al., 1994, Holba et al., 1998, 2001; Moldowan and Jacobson, 2000) • Maturity assessment using biomarkers and other compounds (Seifert and Moldowan, 1980; Mackenzie and Maxwell, 1981; Radke and Welte, 1983) • Biomarkers to assess biodegradation (Seifert and Moldowan, 1979; Volkman et al., 1983, 1984; Peters et al., 1996; Bennett and Larter, 2008) • Gas geochemistry for source, maturity, biodegradation, thermochemical sulfate reduction (Schoell, 1983; Chung et al., 1988; Manzano et al., 1997; Zumberge et al., 2012; Milkov and Etiope, 2018; Xia and Gao, 2018) • Diamondoids for extent of oil cracking, mixed charge (Dahl et al., 1999; Wei et al., 2007) • Light aromatics (BTEX) for proximity of accumulations (Hunt, 1979; Burtell and Jones, 1996) • Carbazoles for migration distance (Larter et al., 1996) Present‐Future Conceptual Milestones • Time‐lapse reservoir geochemistry (Milkov et al., 2007; Jweda et al., 2017; Liu et al., 2017) • Fluid inclusion biomarkers (Kvenvolden and Roedder, 1971; Karlsen et al., 1993; Jones and Macleod, 2000) 2 • Aromatics for correlation, terrigenous systems (Summons and Powell, 1987; Koopmans et al., 1996b; Van Aarssen et al., 2007) • Petroleomics (Mullins et al., 2007) • Fluid residence time in reservoirs (Larter and Adams, 2010; Larter et al., 2012, 2017) • Clumped isotopes for temperature assessment (Eiler, 2007; Stolper et al., 2014, 2017) • Genomics for enhanced production, surfactants (Pal et al., 2017) • Biomarker precursors in living organisms (Summons et al., 1999) • Pyrolyzable nanoparticle reservoir tracers (Cox et al., 2017)