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Natural gases can be characterized genetically using four properties: C2+ concentration, carbon and hydrogen isotope variations in methane, and carbon isotope variation in ethane. Three diagrams for genetic characterization of gases have been designed in which the carbon isotopic composition of methane is correlated with the other parameters. In these diagrams, compositional fields have been defined for primary gases (biogenic, thermogenic associated, and thermogenic nonassociated) and for gases which result from mixing of these gases. These fields are strictly empirical and comprise compositional variations found in about 500 natural gases. The isotopic and compositional variations in natural gases can be described in terms of (1) processes during formation of the gases such as bacterial fermentation or maturation of organic matter, and (2) processes during secondary migration. Mixing of primary gases is an important and common process. Migration of gases predominantly affects the C2+ concentration, whereas the isotopic properties of gaseous hydrocarbons primarily remain unchanged, allowing an assessment of the origin of migrated gases and properties of their source rocks. The formation of gas from humic organic matter and coals is not yet clear from published data.
The diagrams use data from various basins and areas. Interstitial gases from the Gulf of California are entirely of bacterial origin: traces of thermogenic gases are formed only in the vicinity of dolerite sills; gases in the south German Molasse basin and in the Vienna basin are of bacterial, mixed, and thermogenic origins. Data from the north Italian Po basin provide examples for genetic characterization of migrated gases.
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