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Durham University

Department of Earth Sciences


Publication details for Prof. Dave Selby

Cumming, V.M., Selby, D., Lillis, P.G. & Lewan, M.D. (2014). Re–Os geochronology and Os isotope fingerprinting of petroleum sourced from a Type I lacustrine kerogen: Insights from the natural Green River petroleum system in the Uinta Basin and hydrous pyrolysis experiments. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 138: 32-56.

Author(s) from Durham


Rhenium–osmium (Re–Os) geochronology of marine petroleum systems has allowed the determination of the depositional age of source rocks as well as the timing of petroleum generation. In addition, Os isotopes have been applied as a fingerprinting tool to correlate oil to its source unit. To date, only classic marine petroleum systems have been studied. Here we present Re–Os geochronology and Os isotope fingerprinting of different petroleum phases (oils, tar sands and gilsonite) derived from the lacustrine Green River petroleum system in the Uinta Basin, USA. In addition we use an experimental approach, hydrous pyrolysis experiments, to compare to the Re–Os data of naturally generated petroleum in order to further understand the mechanisms of Re and Os transfer to petroleum.

The Re–Os geochronology of petroleum from the lacustrine Green River petroleum system (19 ± 14 Ma – all petroleum phases) broadly agrees with previous petroleum generation basin models (∼25 Ma) suggesting that Re–Os geochronology of variable petroleum phases derived from lacustrine Type I kerogen has similar systematics to Type II kerogen (e.g., Selby and Creaser, 2005a, Selby and Creaser, 2005b and Finlay et al., 2010). However, the large uncertainties (over 100% in some cases) produced for the petroleum Re–Os geochronology are a result of multiple generation events occurring through a ∼3000-m thick source unit that creates a mixture of initial Os isotope compositions in the produced petroleum phases. The 187Os/188Os values for the petroleum and source rocks at the time of oil generation vary from 1.4 to 1.9, with the mode at ∼1.6. Oil-to-source correlation using Os isotopes is consistent with previous correlation studies in the Green River petroleum system, and illustrates the potential utility of Os isotopes to characterize the spatial variations within a petroleum system.

Hydrous pyrolysis experiments on the Green River Formation source rocks show that Re and Os transfer are mimicking the natural system. This transfer from source to bitumen to oil does not affect source rock Re–Os systematics or Os isotopic compositions. This confirms that Os isotope compositions are transferred intact from source to petroleum during petroleum generation and can be used as a powerful correlation tool. These experiments further confirm that Re–Os systematics in source rocks are not adversely affected by petroleum maturation. Overall this study illustrates that the Re–Os petroleum geochronometer and Os isotope fingerprinting tools can be used on a wide range of petroleum types sourced from variable kerogen types.