Western Canada Sedimentary Bbasin petroleum systems: A working and evolving paradigm

Kirk G. Osadetz, Andrew Mort, Lloyd R. Snowdon, Donald C. Lawton, Zhuoheng Chen, Amin Saeedfar
  • Interpretation, May 2018, Society of Exploration Geophysicists
  • DOI: 10.1190/int-2017-0165.1

WCSB petroleum systems and how they might affect unconventional resource potential

What is it about?

Understanding the components and processes that produce and alter petroleum are important for effectively exploiting unconventional petroleum plays. The understanding of Western Canada Sedimentary Basin petroleum systems has changed through time. Recent studies have identified that microbial alteration of crude oil is a major source of secondary biogenic natural gas. These gases are not explicitly identified by studies of natural gases, which have focused on the carbon isotopic composition of hydrocarbon compounds in these gases. The result is a major gap in our reconciliation of natural gas molecular and isotopic compositions with crude oil systems that remains unaddressed. This has implications for understanding how petroleum system processes contribute to the performance and potential of unconventional petroleum plays throughout Western Canada Sedimentary Basin.

Why is it important?

Understanding the petroleum systems and their potential is important in two ways. First, it controls how much petroleum might be recoverable as a source of energy and economy. Second, it is clear that not all petroleum remains trapped and that the natural flux from petroleum from different sources may impact climate and other earth systems. Most notably, it was previously assumed that biogenic petroleum systems contained methane almost exclusively. It is clear that secondary biogenic gas contains heavier hydrocarbons and as such it may be important to distinguish natural versus anthropogenic fluxes of secondary biogenic gas when implementing climate policy aimed at upstream petroleum industry emissions.


Kirk Osadetz

Understanding how petroleum systems work has been a progressive and rewarding intellectual activity. It has implications for energy and climate studies. Understanding the petroleum systems helps us to understand that unconventional petroleum plays are not continuous features, but rather they are a continuation of conventional petroleum plays into rocks of low porosity and permeability. This guides the exploration for and exploitation of these new and promising resources. If the petroleum geochemists still need to create a systematic framework for petroleum system processes then it must be even more challenging for others to understand the impact of both natural and anthropogenic petroleum emissions on earth systems like the climate.

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