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2 monitoring SPECIAL SECTION: Unconventional resources and CO SPECIAL Unconventional SECTION: resources U n c



SPECIAL SECTION: Unconventional resources and CO

SPECIALUnconventionalSECTION: resourcesU n c o andn v eCOn t i o nal resources



Petroleum systems including unconventional reservoirs in intrusive igneous rocks (sills and laccoliths)

DANIEL H. DELPINO, YPF, Argentina Onshore Exploration ADRIANA M. BERMúDEZ, CONICET National University of Comahue

T his work characterizes the principal components and geological process-

es involved in atypical igneous petroleum systems, systems that can generate hydro- carbons in commercial quantities faster than traditional petroleum systems. The principal components involved are potential hydrocarbon source rocks as well as intruding shallow basic sills and acid laccoliths. These igneous bodies are usually emplaced at paleodepths ranging from 1 to 3 km in both active convergent or passive intraplate tectonic settings. Be- cause heat is rapidly transferred toward host rocks by conduction, the volume and quality of hydrocarbons generated are strongly affected by the shape and size of the intrusive bodies.

Migration and entrapment are closely related to the development of hydrother- mal circulation systems, which allows movement of hydrocar- bons through either fractures or syn-intrusive faults. Finally, igneous rocks act as unconventional oil and gas reservoirs due to primary fracture porosity related to the cooling joint sys- tems and/or secondary fracture and alteration porosity. It is important to emphasize that the geologic processes that generate each of the above mentioned elements are initi- ated at depths much greater than the typical maximum thick- ness of the classical sedimentary basins. The main geologic processes involved are lithospheric or asthenospheric magma sources in the upper mantle, magma ascension through large- scale fractures, and the rheological characteristics that influ- ence the relative stratigraphic level of emplacement. Exploration and reservoir characterization uncertainties can be reduced using a workflow that includes geologic con- ceptual models conditioning traditional seismic and petro- physical methodologies.

traditional seismic and petro- physical methodologies. Figure 1. Diff erent types of igneous petroleum systems

Figure 1. Different types of igneous petroleum systems related to sills and laccoliths.

drocarbons. Today it is accepted that intrusive igneous rocks can be a heat source that can induce thermal maturity for hy- drocarbon generation. If the intrusions are profuse, they can produce the heating of a localized area, causing a second epi- sode of hydrocarbon generation as evidenced in the western portion of the Delaware Basin, USA (Barker and Pawlewicz, 1988). The classification of an atypical petroleum system that contains an immature source rock thermally matured by a dyke was made by Magoon and Dow (1994). In addition, the generation, migration, and accumulation of hydrocarbons related to laccoliths within Neuquén Basin, Argentina have been thermally modeled (Rodríguez et al., 2009). Hundreds of seeps and productive hydrocarbons fields, where reservoirs are directly or indirectly related with sills and laccoliths, are known throughout the world (Schutter, 2003; Lianxing et al., 2002). Within a regional context, sedimen- tary basins with a thermal history related to igneous rocks emplacement and containing productive fields are usually related to active convergent margins linked to subduction processes such as Andean or island arc-type margins, or to passive margins basins associated with intracontinental rift- ing processes. The purpose of this paper is to present the controlling factors regarding igneous rock production from basin to rock scale. First, a classification of atypical petroleum systems re- lated to igneous rocks is proposed. A discussion follows re- garding how to best use 3D seismic in the identification of sill and laccolith geometries and how they relate to the petro- leum system. Next, we discuss the use and applications of log analysis in identifying porosity and permeability. Finally, a

Introduction In order to better evaluate plays involving sills and laccoliths, it is first necessary to have a good understanding of the pe- troleum system. This understanding, in conjunction with the ability to accurately map sills and laccoliths in the subsurface by both geophysical and geological methods, can lead to the definition of prospective unconventional reservoirs. The relationships between igneous rocks and hydro- carbons have been documented since the beginning of the twentieth century. Based upon field evidence, early observers noted that the heating of source rocks by igneous rocks could either generate hydrocarbons or modify already formed hy-

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workflow for plays to sills and laccoliths is presented.

Classification of atypical igneous petroleum systems This paper proposes a classification of petroleum systems as related to igneous rocks. Considerations include the essential elements placed in time and space as well as geologic pro- cesses. The petroleum systems related to igneous rocks have unique stratigraphic characteristics within a very specific areal distribution and temporal extent. A significant stratigraphic feature is that overburden rocks required for reaching ther- mal maturity can be substituted with intrusive rocks and their associated heat transfer towards potential source host rocks. Others specific aspects are: (a) the intrusion process can gen- erate primary migration pathways due to source host rock fracturing; and (b) intrusive rocks can become reservoirs and/ or form part of the trap as hot hydrothermal fluid convective cells can generate hydrocarbons that return to the intrusive rock. The possibility of hydrocarbon generation is interrelated with the relative degree of thermal maturity of the potential source rock at the time of intrusion. The geographic distribution of some igneous petroleum systems can be restricted to that part solely surrounding the intrusive bodies or can be similar to conventional petroleum systems. The temporal extent can be greater than conventional petroleum systems because often there are time gaps between the stratigraphic components and intrusion time. In the case that an igneous rock is intruded into a rock that is not a potential source rock, the composition and petro- physical characteristics of the host rocks become important. The proposed classification divides the petroleum systems, as related to igneous rocks, into two types (Figure 1): (a) Type I, when the igneous rock is intruded into a potential source rock, and (b) Type II, if the igneous rock has been emplaced in another type of sedimentary rock.

Type I igneous petroleum systems Type I igneous petroleum systems can be divided into three subtypes (Type IA, IB, and IC) according to the relative de- gree of thermal maturity of the potential source rock at the time of sill and/or laccolith intrusion. As such, hydrocarbon volume generation generally increases from Type C to Type A. Source rocks are generally black shales or carbonate rocks. Basic igneous rocks intrude at temperatures between 1150°C and 1250°C and acid rocks intrude at between 750°C and 950°C. The most common sill and laccolith intrusion depth within sedimentary rocks is between 1000 m and 3000 m, where most temperatures are between 30°C and 90°C, considering a geothermal gradient of 30°C/km. This tem- perature difference produces a necessary heat transfer toward the host rock following the law of heat conduction. As such, source-host rock temperatures can range between 50°C and 200°C, depending on the distance to the sill or laccoliths. This temperature range is where most hydrocarbon genera- tion occurs. Subtype IA is defined when the potential source rock is either immature or very close to the oil window at the time

of intrusion. In this situation, open or closed systems can be generated, depending on both the relative distance of the po- tential carrier bed from the site of generation as well as sills and laccoliths morphology that exerts a strong control on syn-intrusive fault and fracture systems. Closed system Subtype IA is commonly related to sills whose syn-intrusive faults and fractures have limited length from the igneous body, and, as such, hydrocarbons move within a closed system within the host rock. In the initial stages of hydrocarbon generation, hydrocarbons migrate away from the intrusive body. As cooling begins, the hydrocarbons return toward the intrusive body aided by hot convective cells of hydrothermal fluids. In this case, the sills initially supply heat for generation and then may act as reservoirs and/or help generate reservoirs close to the host rock contacts. Open system Subtype IA is generally related to laccoliths. During the intrusion processes, complex fracture systems are generated, which can communicate hydrocarbons outwards toward overlying carrier beds outside of the host rock. This system includes radial fractures and concentric and ring faults that affect the host rocks at relatively long distances from the roof of the laccoliths. Some stages of this system are similar to the development caused by the intrusion of the salt domes or those related with volcanic calderas. These large syn-in- trusive fractures and faults can act as paths for hydrocarbon primary migration until they reach sedimentary carrier beds. As a result, a portion of the generated hydrocarbons moves away from the site of generation, and in this manner an open system is generated. Subtype IB is developed when an igneous rock intrudes

a mature source rock; that is to say, the source rock has been previously affected by thermal processes covering the tem- perature range that generates hydrocarbon. In this case, the volumes that will be generated depend on the remaining generation capacity, which could lead to a second episode of hydrocarbon generation. Also, in some zones, only the transformation of oil to gaseous hydrocarbons is produced, as documented in the Piceance Basin, Colorado, USA (Johnson,


Subtype IC is developed if the source rock is postmature at the time of intrusion. In this case, depending on the rela- tive degree of overmaturation, only small amounts of gaseous hydrocarbons could be generated. As noted, there is a close relationship between the degree of relative maturity of the potential source-host rock and the absolute age of the igneous rock. Therefore, to accurately evaluate these unconventional plays and associated reservoirs,

it is essential to know these two data with great certainty.

Type II igneous petroleum systems These systems are formed when the igneous rocks are in- truded into host rocks layers that do not act as source rock (Figure 1). These systems are classified into three subtypes:

• Subtype IIA, where sills and laccoliths are intruded into units that are well known as productive formations within

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Unconventional resources and CO 2 monitoring Figure 2. 3D sill seismic geometries. (a) Extracted top sill

Figure 2. 3D sill seismic geometries. (a) Extracted top sill surfaces and fractures acting as feeders. (b) Sill with finger terminations. Arrows mark ow directions.

the basin, generally sandstone or carbonate rock units.

• Subtype IIB, when the intrusion level is a tight formation; in this case the syn-intrusive fractures and hot hydrother- mal fluids flow can improve the quality of the reservoirs adjacent to the intrusive body.

• Finally, Subtype IIC is related to the feeders that can act as barriers forming part of the trap.

Seismic geometry of sills and laccoliths One-dimensional sill geometries are well documented in out- crop as noted in the Midland Valley of Scotland (MacGregor, 1948). However, outcrops do not usually allow for 2D or 3D geometry reconstruction. By using 3D seismic, however, one is able to establish different sill geometries in three dimen- sions. Seismic geometry interpretation is important not only to estimate generated volumes of hydrocarbon, but also to estimate potential reservoir volumes. In addition to the sills, relative structural position is important in that structure also controls fluids distribution within the reservoir. Sills can be identified as high-amplitude reflections that stand out clearly over lower-amplitude reflections of sedi- mentary host rocks. By using a combination of amplitude and variance attributes, it is possible to identify fracture feed- ers and their ascent upward via jumps toward upper strati- graphic layers (Figure 2a), as well as identify finger-shaped terminations (Figure 2b). Seismic mapping accuracy can be obtained using the fol- lowing methodology. First, the massive sector of the sill can be interpreted by automatically interpreting continuous high-

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interpreting continuous high- 806 The Leading Edge July 2009 Figure 3. (a) Seismic section showing continuous

Figure 3. (a) Seismic section showing continuous high-amplitude reflection produced by a massive sector of the sill. (b) Seismic inversion clearly shows sill rising up to upper stratigraphic layers and finger. (c) Syn-intrusive fault originated when sills create their own space.

amplitude reflections within a restricted amplitude range (Figure 3a). Next, manual picking interpretation is necessary for the identification of finger and sill terminations that are usually separate from the central massive sector of the sills (Fig- ure 3a). In addition, seismic inversion clearly identifies fingers (Figure 3b). Generally, sills do not generate obvious structures in host rocks, although sometimes it is possible to identify seis- mically syn-intrusive fractures produced when the host rock is wedged apart by the intruding magma (Figure 3c). Laccolith geometry, on the other hand, usually cannot be easily reconstructed using 3D seismic interpretation. Indirect visualization is possible not only by the dome structure in the overlying rocks but also by concentric fault systems generated during the intrusion processes affecting host rocks (Figure


A key point to fault systems is the extensional assemblages of cracks (radial and apical) located within the host rocks ad- jacent to the laccolith top. Fracture assemblages are aerially superposed, generating a complex zone of faults and fractures that stands out over the adjacent lateral zones (Figure 4b).

Sills and laccoliths acting as reservoirs Sills and laccoliths, like sedimentary rocks, can develop pri- mary and secondary porosity. Primary porosity can include cavities and fractures. This primary porosity is influenced by emplacement, cooling, and

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U ppm









GR t









RHOm g/











SiO 2 %




(Acid rocks)

(Basic rocks)


(Acid rocks)

(Acid rocks)

(Basic rocks)


(Acid rocks)



Table 1. Lithologic types of igneous rocks. GR t = theorical gamma ray. RHOm = matrix density. All values are averages.

gamma ray. RHOm = matrix density. All values are averages. Figure 4. (a) Seismic expression of

Figure 4. (a) Seismic expression of concentric fault system using a combination of amplitude and variance attributes. (b) Faults and cracks assemblages on top of a laccolith. These zones are usually productive ones.

petrological processes developed within the cooling intrusive bodies. Secondary porosity is related to postcooling tectonic and alteration processes. Primary porosity is best represented by the developed co- lumnar joints system. These types of joints are almost uni- versally developed within igneous rocks due to loss of vol- ume during the cooling process and begin to form in basic

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rocks upon reaching temperatures of 725°C. Columnar joint systems divide the rock into three-dimensional fracture net- works that organize the solid rock into pentagonal or hexago- nal columns, and, if they remain open, increase both vertical and horizontal permeability. Primary porosity within sills can be very important and vary systematically delimiting zones with greater or less relative porosity according to the relative density of fracturing (Figure 5). Under certain conditions, a concentric joint system can be developed within each column. This system increases the porosity at typical porosity values of unconsolidated sand- stones (Bermúdez and Delpino, 2008). In laccoliths, primary porosity development is enhanced adjacent to the host rock when a flow-jointing system is devel- oped. Even under the influence of the overlying sedimentary column load, joint systems within sills and laccoliths remain open. This is different when compared to joints that originate by sedimentary processes that “close” at depth. During the emplacement process of laccoliths, syn-intrusive faulting and fracturing create secondary porosity within the host rock, and is more pronounced near the roof contact. In these zones, faulting and fracturing exists at all scales but usually micro- fracturing predominates forming microbreccias in potentially productive zones. Sill syn-intrusive fault systems affecting the host rocks do not reach the same magnitude as in laccoliths, but in this case secondary porosity generated by the hydrothermal alteration processes can be important. In addition, sills and laccoliths can act as seals due to the alteration processes that induce the filling of fractures and cavities so that the degree of primary porosity and perme- ability is drastically reduced. On the other hand, the same process can actually develop porosity and permeability in the host rock. In addition, feeders can act as flow barriers and form traps.

Applications of gamma ray and density logs in sills and laccoliths The analysis and interpretation of gamma-ray logs, together with detailed cutting description in sills and laccoliths, are essential for the identification of the drilled thickness and

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Unconventional resources and CO 2 monitoring Figure 5. Primary porosities are mainly influenced by cooling and

Figure 5. Primary porosities are mainly influenced by cooling and petrological processes developed within sills.

the lithological type as well as the interpretation of both chemical composition and alteration variations within the intrusive bodies (Figure 6). In addition, it allows assessing mineralogical changes and alterations close to the contacts of the host rocks. Gamma-ray logs can be used to obtain information about the contacts between the sills and laccoliths and host rocks. Contacts are generally related to a sharp

change in the log curve and consequent- ly permit not only the accurate determi- nation of drilled thickness but also the identification of thin fingers of the main body. Finger detection is not possible by analyzing cuttings or by seismic studies (Figure 6). Gamma-ray logs also allow the eval- uation of one of the most significant properties of igneous rocks, that is, the systematic variation of potassium (K). This important element, used in litho- geochemical classifications, increases in content from basic to acid rocks and therefore effects gamma-ray values as well. These value differences are necessary to make a clear distinction between the lithologies of basic rocks (low radio- activity) and acid rocks (higher radio-

activity) (Table 1). Gamma-ray logs also measure radiation of two trace elements, thorium (Th) and uranium (U). These two trace ele- ments are not useful for identify- ing lithological type, but both of them increase systematically from basic to acid rocks. An unaltered igneous rock pre- serves the original content of K, U, and Th making it possible to iden- tify lithological types by the gam- ma-ray log’s “base compositional line” (Figure 6). If the petrological process of dif- ferentiation has taken place within the intrusive bodies, which changes the original relative acid and basic composition, the gamma-ray log will depart from the base compo- sitional line. Acid differentiations with rela- tively greater content of K, U, and Th are most common in the central and/or upper parts of the intrusives. Contacts between sectors that pre-

serve the original composition and those with differentiations are tran- sitional, and, therefore, gamma-ray curves with “convex” zones are produced. In contrast, if the differentiations are more basic than the original composition, they are known as “cumulates” formed by accumulations of mafic minerals, such as olivine and py-

roxene. In this case, the lower content of K, Th, and U de- termines that the log shows a “concave” curve. Generally, this process takes place in zones in the lower third of the intrusive bodies (Figure 6).

Gamma-ray logs can also be used for the identification of “altered” sectors due to K and U, which can become sig- nificantly enriched in secondary altera- tion minerals. If the alteration processes have involved the loss or gain of these elements, the gamma-ray log curve will show peaks with lower or higher values. Peaks are produced because alteration is controlled by fractures (Figure 6). Generally, Th behaves as an immobile element. In some occasions, alteration af- fects the entire rock. In this case, the gamma-ray log curve is affected as a whole. The most common cases of this type are chlorite alterations that imply the loss of potassium, and argillaceous and zeolite alterations where potassium increases.

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Unconventional resources and CO 2 monitoring Figure 6. Gamma-ray log in sill and laccoliths. (a) Basic

Figure 6. Gamma-ray log in sill and laccoliths. (a) Basic sill, red line marks the “base compositional line.” (b) Intermediate sill, red line shows a concave curve indicating differentiated sectors with “cumulates.” (c) Acid laccoliths showing alteration processes that have involved loss of K.

The gamma-ray curve shows small peaks and variations that distinguish it from smooth “fresh” rock curves. In any case, cutting descriptions can be used to distinguish the litho- logical type if the log shows higher or lower values than the normal lithological type. It is necessary to clarify that the rock can show curve values of unaltered rock, but this is only with respect to K and U. It could be affected by other alteration types that do not involve movement of K and U, and, there- fore, they are not read by gamma-ray logs.

Density log Matrix density of igneous rocks varies systematically from basic to acid rocks. Matrix density can be calculated using mineral densities of each volume fraction of the rock-forming minerals. As an example, basic rocks are between 35% to 50% mafic minerals, generally olivines and piroxenes with densities between 3.2 and 4.20 g/cm 3 and feldspars with densities from 2.55 to 2.62 g/cm 3 . As silica content increases (acid rocks), the percentage of mafic minerals reduces while feldspars increase. Also, matrix densities calculated from the geochemical

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composition decline from basic to acid rocks (Table 1). These densities, determined by the compositional variations, must be considered when values of the apparent density log are used to calculate porosity. Sills and laccoliths with differentiated zones could have sectors with different density of matrix. Density logs can be affected due to metamorphic reac- tions next to the contacts. Metamorphosed host rocks gradu- ally increase matrix density toward the contact. Also, density logs can be affected by sulphides. These alteration minerals, like pyrite, can produce peaks of abnormally high density (4.80–5.17 g/cm 3 ), even when disseminated within the in- trusive bodies and/or host rocks. Generally speaking, sills and laccoliths display high resis- tivity, but the presence of sulphides in the form of veinlets or finely disseminated material within the intrusive rocks can produce log variations or peaks due to the high conductivity of these minerals. Magma under pressure is a molten mixture of silicates and dissolved gases. When the magma ascends, pressure dimin- ishes and, consequently, SO 2 , SH 2 , and CO 2 gases are exolved and separate. These sulphur gases interact with hot Fe-rich

Unconventional resources and CO 2 monitoring

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hydrothermal fluids forming sulphides. If the host rock contains enough organic matter, meta- morphic mineral graphite could be formed. This metamor- phic contact mineral frequently affects resistivity logs because it is highly conductive. Other alteration minerals frequently related with alteration in igneous rocks are carbonates because CO 2 released is incorporated into hydrothermal fluids, lead- ing to carbonate precipitation in veinlets or filling cavities.

Proposed work flow for sills and laccoliths Proposed work flows for identifying potentially productive sills and laccoliths would have to consider surface data and re- gional geology identifying igneous cycles and structural con- trol of igneous activity. If possible, conceptual geologic models using analogous examples obtained in the field can be useful. Key points that could greatly influence reservoir evalua- tions are igneous cycles, absolute age determination, and the relationship between tectonic events, igneous activity, and the basin thermal history. Also important are detailed seismic mapping of igneous bodies, syn-intrusive faults and fracture systems, and, especially in sills, the use of amplitude and vari- ance attributes and possibly identify feeders. Reservoir evaluation requires detailed cutting description as well as lithologic and alteration identification using major trace-element geochemical analysis that allows a quantitative evaluation of igneous rocks. Additionally, geochemical analysis is used to classify sys- tematically the lithologic type to determine to which series of rocks it belongs, make precise correlations, and to determine the tectonic setting. Also, it is used to corroborate K, U, and Th contents to compare with gamma-ray logs.

Conclusions Igneous activity and oil and gas fields are not incompatible. In fact, igneous events developed close to fields may not de- stroy oil and gas fields. Exploration tasks in these areas should consider the po- tential relationships between igneous rocks and the petro- leum systems. A systematic framework should be established. This should include the relationships among igneous rocks and source rocks, migration pathways, reservoir characteristics, and the traps present.

Commonly, primary porosities (fractures and cavities) generated during cooling processes improve the capacity of sills and laccoliths to act as reservoirs. Igneous rocks and host sedimentary rocks must be con- sidered as a whole system. Finally, the emplacement of igneous rocks is linked to global tectonic events developed inside the mantle of the Earth at depths greater than the tectonic processes respon- sible for sedimentary basin formation.

Suggested reading. “Geothermic of petroleum systems: Im- plications of the stabilization of kerogen thermal maturation after geologically brief heating duration at peack temperature”

by Barker (USGS Petroleum Systems of United States, 1988).

“Concentric and radial joint systems in basic sill and their associ- ated porosity enhancement, Neuquén Basin, Argentina as a rock porosity mediator” by Bermúdez and Delpino (Structure and

Emplacement of High Level Magmatic Systems, 2008). “Geo-

logic history and hydrocarbon potential of late Cretaceous-Age, low permeability reservoirs, Piceance Basin, western Colorado” by Johnson (USGS Bulletin, 1989). “Hydrocarbon reservoirs in a trachyte porphyry intrusion in the Eastern depression of the Liaohe basin, northeast China” by Lianxing Gu et al. (AAPG Bulletin, 2002). “British Regional Geology: The Midland Valley of Scotland” by MacGregor (Geological Survey of Great Brit-

ain, 1948). The Petroleum System from to Source to Trap by Magoon and Dow (AAPG, 1994). Hydrocarbons in Crystalline

Rocks by Petford and McCaffrey (Geological Society, London, 2003). “Modeling an atypical petroleum system: A case study of hydrocarbon generation, migration and accumulation relat- ed to igneous intrusions in the Neuquén Basin, Argentina” by Rodríguez et al. (Marine and Petroleum Geology, 2009). “Occur- rences of hydrocarbons in and around igneous rocks” by Schut- ter (Geological Society, London, 2003).

rocks” by Schut- ter (Geological Society, London, 2003). Acknowledgments: We thank YPF-Dirección General de Explo-

Acknowledgments: We thank YPF-Dirección General de Explo- ración y Desarrollo de Negocios for facilitating participation in the SEG workshop on Unconventional Reservoirs held in Vancouver, September 2008 and permission to publish this work. We specially thank Peter McGregor for his review and comments that greatly improved the original manuscript.

Corresponding author: dhdelpinos@ypf.com

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