Solid bitumen in shales: petrographic characteristics and implications for reservoir characterization

David Misch, Doris Groß, Gerhard Hawranek, Brian Horsfield, Jop Klaver, Francisca Mendez Martin, Janos Urai, Sanja Vranjes-Wessely, Reinhard Sachsenhofer, Joyce Schmatz, Jian Li, Caineng Zou

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31 Citations (Scopus)


The presence of solid bitumen strongly affects hydrocarbon storage and expulsion from a source rock as it might either cause blockage of pore throats leading to lower effective gas permeability, or contribute to hydrocarbon storage and provide migration pathways when a continuous network of hydrocarbon-wet organic matter (OM) pores is formed. Furthermore, organic matter transformation reactions are suggested to influence mineral diagenesis as well. In an attempt to characterize different solid bitumen types and transformation stages over a broad maturity interval (0.5–2.7%Ro) and for varying primary kerogen compositions, we reviewed optical and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) data of 35 solid bitumen-rich shale samples with a Cambrian to Triassic age. We were able to identify in-situ pre-oil solid bitumen, as well as remobilized post-oil solid bitumen at various maturity stages from the early oil window onwards. Solid bitumen is the main host for SEM-visible organic matter porosity; onset of porosity development in solid bitumen differs considerably between predominantly oil-prone (e.g., alginites, amorphous OM from algal and bacterial precursors) and gas-prone (vitrinite-rich) kerogen compositions. Furthermore, solid bitumen (pyrobitumen) in rocks with a terrestrially dominated OM composition seems to be considerably less mobile within the source rock compared to pre- and post-oil solid bitumen in oil-prone rocks, and less reactive in terms of porosity generation. In most samples, several solid bitumen populations with varying fluorescence properties and bitumen reflectance were observed, complicating the use of these petrographic maturity indicators. The apparently different solid bitumen populations often form continuous networks at the SEM-scale. Microstructural features such as irregularly distributed sponge-like porosity or detrital and authigenic mineral inclusions in the sub-micrometer scale were found to have a great influence on texture and reflectance under reflected light microscopy. The formation of authigenic minerals (quartz, various carbonate phases with different Ca/Mg/Fe proportions, magnetite in Cambrian samples) was observed frequently in post-oil solid bitumen of oil-prone rocks, indicating a close genetic relationship between transformation products formed during hydrocarbon generation (e.g., acetate, carbon dioxide and methane) and the dissolution and precipitation of minerals during diagenesis. In some cases, stylolite-like features in the sub-micrometer scale were found, showing that processes well-known from reservoir characterization at core-scale also play a role at the micrometer-scale. Furthermore, the observed strong interaction between organic matter transformation and mineral authigenesis indicates a substantial aqueous component even in pores filled apparently exclusively with solid bitumen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-31
Number of pages18
JournalInternational journal of coal geology
Issue number1 March
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2019

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