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AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 92, No. 9 (September 2008), P. 1131-1152.

Copyright copy2008. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.


Families of Miocene Monterey crude oil, seep, and tarball samples, coastal California

Kenneth E. Peters,1 Frances D. Hostettler,2 Thomas D. Lorenson,3 Robert J. Rosenbauer4

1U.S. Geological Survey, Earth Surface Processes, 345 Middlefield Road, MS 969, Menlo Park, California 94025; [email protected]
2U.S. Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, MS 409, Menlo Park, California 94025; [email protected]
3U.S. Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, MS 999, Menlo Park, California 94025; [email protected]
4U.S. Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, MS 999, Menlo Park, California 94025; [email protected]


Biomarker and stable carbon isotope ratios were used to infer the age, lithology, organic matter input, and depositional environment of the source rocks for 388 samples of produced crude oil, seep oil, and tarballs to better assess their origins and distributions in coastal California. These samples were used to construct a chemometric (multivariate statistical) decision tree to classify 288 additional samples. The results identify three tribes of 13C-rich oil samples inferred to originate from thermally mature equivalents of the clayey-siliceous, carbonaceous marl and lower calcareous-siliceous members of the Monterey Formation at Naples Beach near Santa Barbara. An attempt to correlate these families to rock extracts from these members in the nearby COST (continental offshore stratigraphic test) (OCS-Cal 78-164) well failed, at least in part because the rocks are thermally immature. Geochemical similarities among the oil tribes and their widespread distribution support the prograding margin model or the banktop-slope-basin model instead of the ridge-and-basin model for the deposition of the Monterey Formation. Tribe 1 contains four oil families having geochemical traits of clay-rich marine shale source rock deposited under suboxic conditions with substantial higher plant input. Tribe 2 contains four oil families with traits intermediate between tribes 1 and 3, except for abundant 28,30-bisnorhopane, indicating suboxic to anoxic marine marl source rock with hemipelagic input. Tribe 3 contains five oil families with traits of distal marine carbonate source rock deposited under anoxic conditions with pelagic but little or no higher plant input. Tribes 1 and 2 occur mainly south of Point Conception in paleogeographic settings where deep burial of the Monterey source rock favored petroleum generation from all three members or their equivalents. In this area, oil from the clayey-siliceous and carbonaceous marl members (tribes 1 and 2) may overwhelm that from the lower calcareous-siliceous member (tribe 3) because the latter is thinner and less oil-prone than the overlying members. Tribe 3 occurs mainly north of Point Conception where shallow burial caused preferential generation from the underlying lower calcareous-siliceous member or another unit with similar characteristics. In a test of the decision tree, 10 tarball samples collected from beaches in Monterey and San Mateo counties in early 2007 were found to originate from natural seeps representing different organofacies of Monterey Formation source rock instead from one anthropogenic pollution event. The seeps apparently became more active because of increased storm activity.

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