Oil generation from coal source rocks: the influence of depositional conditions and stratigraphic age
Although it was for many years believed that coals could not act as source rocks for commercial oil accumulations, it is today generally accepted that coals can indeed generate and expel commercial quantities of oil. While hydrocarbon generation from coals is less well understood than for marine and lacustrine source rocks, liquid hydrocarbon generation from coals and coaly source rocks is now known from many parts of the world, especially in the Australasian region (MacGregor 1994; Todd et al. 1997). Most of the known large oil accumulations derived from coaly source rocks have been generated from Cenozoic coals, such as in the Gippsland Basin (Australia), the Taranaki Basin (New Zealand), and the Kutei Basin (Indonesia). Permian and Jurassic coal-sourced oils are known from, respectively, the Cooper Basin (Australia) and the Danish North Sea, but in general only minor quantities of oil appear to be related to coals of Permian and Jurassic age. In contrast, Carboniferous coals are only associated with gas, as demonstrated for example by the large gas deposits in the southern North Sea and The Netherlands. Overall, the oil generation capacity of coals seems to increase from the Carboniferous to the Cenozoic. This suggests a relationship to the evolution of more complex higher land plants through time, such that the highly diversified Cenozoic plant communities in particular have the potential to produce oil-prone coals. In addition to this overall vegetational factor, the depositional conditions of the precursor mires influenced the generation potential. The various aspects of oil generation from coals have been the focus of research at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS) for several years, and recently a worldwide database consisting of more than 500 coals has been the subject of a detailed study that aims to describe the oil window and the generation potential of coals as a function of coal composition and age.
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