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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

AAPG Bulletin


Volume: 67 (1983)

Issue: 8. (August)

First Page: 1199

Last Page: 1218

Title: Relation of Natural Gas Composition to Thermal Maturity and Source Rock Type in San Juan Basin, Northwestern New Mexico and Southwestern Colorado

Author(s): Dudley D. Rice (2)


San Juan basin is a roughly circular, asymmetric structural depression located in northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado. Ultimate recoverable reserves of predominantly nonassociated gas (23 tcf, 0.65 × 1012 m3) are present in the structurally low part of the central basin. The major producing intervals are low-permeability sandstone reservoirs in the Upper Cretaceous Dakota Sandstone, Mesaverde Group, and Pictured Cliffs Sandstone. Lesser amounts of oil and/or gas are produced from Pennsylvanian, Jurassic, and Cretaceous rocks along the southern and western flanks of the basin.

The gases display a trend of becoming isotopically heavier (^dgr13C1 values range from -48.7 to -31.4^pmil and chemically drier (C1/C1-5 values range from 0.75 to 0.99) with increasing depth. These changes are assumed to be the result of thermal cracking processes, and the gases are interpreted to have been generated during the mature and post-mature stages of hydrocarbon generation. However, there is considerable scatter in the data which is interpreted to result from a difference in source rock type. Gases generated from nonmarine (humic) source rocks are isotopically heavier and chemically drier than those generated from marine (sapropelic) source rocks at equivalent levels of maturity.

The gases also become isotopically heavier and chemically drier to the northeast, following the trend of increasing maturity of all units in that direction. The increase in maturity is attributed to a combination of greater burial depth and a higher geothermal gradient resulting from batholiths to the north in the San Juan Mountains area. Maximum burial and heat flow occurred during the Oligocene, which probably coincided with peak hydrocarbon generation.

Lack of oil in the central basin is believed to be the result of two factors. First, gas in reservoirs such as the Dakota Sandstone may have resulted from thermal cracking of oil generated from marine source rocks during late mature (wet gas-condensate) and post-mature (dry gas) stages of hydrocarbon generation. Second, gas in reservoirs such as Mesaverde Group and Pictured Cliffs Sandstone is nonassociated and probably was generated from nonmarine (coaly) organic matter during the mature and post-mature stages. Minor amounts of condensate, instead of oil, may have been generated from nonmarine source rocks during the mature stage.

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