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Matthews, M. D., 1996, Migrationa view from the top, in D. Schumacher and M. A. Abrams, eds.

, Hydrocarbon migration and its near-surface expression: AAPG Memoir 66, p. 139155.

Chapter 11

MigrationA View from the Top

Martin D. Matthews
Texaco International Exploration Division Bellaire, Texas, U.S.A.

Many mechanisms have been proposed for hydrocarbon migration, and many processes have been described that modify the composition of migrating hydrocarbons. Examination of subsurface and surface data indicates that all the proposed mechanisms and processes are active. However, many play minor roles only recognizable in special situations. The dominant migration mechanism is as a free phase, rising under the forces of buoyancy within carrier and reservoir rocks, and capillary imbibition in the transition from sources and seal into carrier rocks. The migration pathway is determined by three-dimensional heterogeneity at all scales, from the individual pore systems to the interrelationships of facies. The dominant process modifying the composition of migrating hydrocarbons is phase partitioning, as evidenced by subsurface and surface data on hydrocarbon expulsion, migration, and accumulation. In the near surface, many processes act to modify this seepage, particularly biogenic activity and diffusion (both chemical and mechanical). Free-gas surface hydrocarbon survey measurements, however, are dominated by this seepage mechanism. It explains (1) the spatial variability of the data; (2) the relationship of high-magnitude sites to high-permeability geologic features such as faults, fractures, unconformities, and outcropping reservoir units; (3) the compositional relationship of subsurface reservoired hydrocarbons to source rocks and the lack of relationship to ineffective source rocks; the variation of magnitude with time, both long and short; and current estimates of the rate of transport in the near surface.

This paper is concerned with postexpulsion migration. With the exception of boundary conditions, there is little or no difference in the processes involved in secondary and tertiary migration. The knowledge gained by studying one directly constrains the behavior of the other. Postexpulsion migration is concerned with all aspects of migration, through mixed geologic sequences (reservoirs, conduits, seals, faults, and fractures) and ultimately to the surface. This mixed sequence of rocks is simplified into two classes: relatively large pore networks and relatively small pore networks. Because these terms are used in reference to adjacent systems, they may refer to a contact between sandstone and shale, fine and coarse sandstone, shale and evaporite, or even adjacent pore networks. Pore networks are chosen as the reference because they are a prime control on flow rate and volume. Conventional conclusions on how hydrocarbons migrate are dominated by studies of flow in reservoirs by engineers, laboratory simulations, and theory of flow in porous media. These studies rarely encompass tens of 139

years, while the time frame of reservoir charging is probably much longer. The transport of hydrocarbons through an entire stratigraphic section has been generally ignored. Notable exceptions are the work of hydrologists such as Tth (1988 and this volume) and basin modelers such as Welte and Ykler (1980), Durand et al. (1983), and Nakayama and Lerche (1987). Migration is like Einsteins watch. Observations concerning its operation can be made, but since opening the system is not permitted, only hypotheses about its operation, consistent with those observations, can be made. The movement of hydrocarbons in the deep and shallow subsurface is a complex balance of processes. We can draw conclusions based only on our understanding of the basic principles of science and our observations. We may never know if these conclusions are correct for any given situation. First, I give an overview of the forces and processes responsible for hydrocarbon migration. This is followed by a description of constraints placed on migration by subsurface and near-surface studies. This information is then used to generate a model of migration, consistent with all these data.



phase separation Solution adsorption primary migration

diffusion leakage


entrapment mixing


modification by organisms water wet pore system

(related to concentration differences), and compaction of the sediment (squeezing the hydrocarbons from the collapsing pore space). Some act indirectly on the hydrocarbons as conditions around them change due to burial, such as thermal expansion and water motion due to compaction. Others come about due to decreases in pressure and temperature as a result of the upward motion of hydrocarbons through the rock, such as phase change and volume expansion.

tertiary migration

Physical Form
Numerous models for the physical form of migrating hydrocarbons have been proposed. These can be grouped into three categories: dissolved in water, separate phase, and transport along a continuous kerogen network. Hydrocarbons dissolved in water occur as true solution and micellar solution. Both of these forms enable the hydrocarbons to move one molecule at a time and thus present minimal restriction to movement. True solution is a function of pressure, temperature, salinity, molecular weight, and mixtures of components present. Micellar solution increases the capacity of water to carry molecular hydrocarbon species by the use of naturally occurring hydrocarbon solubilizers. Separate phase migration of hydrocarbons occurs as discrete droplets (smaller than a pore throat) and as a larger continuous mass extending across several pores. Dispersions of separate phase hydrocarbons occur as discrete droplets, colloids, or emulsions, either gaseous or liquid. The taller the hydrocarbon mass, the greater the buoyancy force. Separate phase migration of hydrocarbons is subject to capillary forces at its contact with water. Continuous kerogen networks are only expected in rich source rocks and can be discounted as a dominant factor in post-expulsion migration.


Source leakage Reservoir

primary migration




Figure 1Schematic diagram of subsurface migration. Rock framework is shown in boxes, events in black lettering, and processes in gray.

Three principal questions about migration arise. (1) How is cross-formational flow of hydrocarbons accomplished? (2) Does the form change during migration and, if so, which form is dominant under what conditions? (3) How does the dominant form (or forms) control the volumes and compositions transported? To consider these questions, it is appropriate to review the constraints placed on our understanding of the subsurface migration process. The interrelationships of some of these constraints are shown in Figure 1.

Processes Causing Chemical Changes During Migration

During postexpulsion migration, many processes are capable of altering the chemical characteristics of the hydrocarbons expelled from the source rock. These include water washing, adsorption, phase partitioning, mixing, and biodegradation. Water washing is the selective removal of the more water-soluble components. Adsorption of migrating hydrocarbons onto the mineral substrate it passes through can lead to both selective removal of hydrocarbons and selective retardation of the migration rate of hydrocarbons, as in a chromatographic column. Phase partitioning is the concentration of different hydrocarbon species into gaseous and liquid phases with changes in pressure and temperature. Mixing alters composition through inclusion of hydrocarbons from other kerogen particles along the migration path, combining migration streams from two or more source rocks, and precipitation of asphaltenes and other high molecular weight compounds by the addition of methane. Biodegradation is the biologic alteration of hydrocarbons.

The movement of hydrocarbons from one location to another requires energy. Many sources of energy are possible, and to one extent or another all may be active. Some arise directly as a result of the presence of hydrocarbons in given location, including buoyancy, chemical potential

Chapter 11MigrationA View from the Top


Concentration Mechanisms

SOIL AIR WATER WET PORES oxidation modification by organisms

Processes capable of concentrating hydrocarbons from the migrating stream into a reservoired accumulation include pressure minimums, critical orifices, exsolution, and capillary forces. Perfect seals, which do not leak at all, are the type of seals most petroleum geologists visualize, but they rarely occur. Pressure minimums are a perfect seal. When all the forces acting on a hydrocarbon mass are resolved, the hydrocarbons remain in the minimum as long as it exists. There is no migration out of that minimum. Critical orifices apply specifically to dissolved species. They act as molecular sieves, allowing particles smaller than the orifice to pass, while retaining particles larger than the orifice. If seals were uniformly composed of subcritical pore throats, this would also form a perfect seal. Nonporous unfractured rock, such as a salt, will form such a seal under certain circumstances. Exsolution of hydrocarbons is facilitated by increasing salinity, decreasing temperature, and decreasing pressure. Once a separate phase is formed, capillary forces become effective. Capillary forces arise at the interface between two immiscible mobile phases across a restricted opening. As the pressure difference across a capillary restriction increases, the interface deforms and the nonwetting phase eventually penetrates the restriction.

AIR diffusion evaporation WATER adsorption bubble expansion phase separation Solution diffusion evaporation

Near-Surface Boundary Conditions

Surface geochemical observations are made close to the end of the subsurface migration path. They offer the advantage of virtually complete spatial availability of sampling locations, but are subject to certain boundary conditions (Figure 2) that must be considered in interpretation of the data. Four interfaces are of interest: waterwet pores with free water, free water with the atmosphere, water-wet pores with soil air, and soil air with the atmosphere. Water-Wet Pores with Free Water The behavior of migrating hydrocarbons at the interface between water-wet pores and free water is particularly instructive because, in addition to sampling by coring and sniffers, it is subject to direct observation and measurement by submersibles and free diving. At shallow depths below the sedimentwater interface, the concentration of hydrocarbons generally increases downward, as shown by Abrams (1992, and this volume). Detailed depth profiles (Brooks et al., 1978) show that this general increase is subject to considerable variation and local reversals of hydrocarbon concentration with depth. This variation is similar to that observed in high-sensitivity mud logs at deeper depths. Separate phase hydrocarbons escape through the sediment water interface as both bubbles (gas dominated) and globules (liquid dominated). The rate of escape varies greatly, from intermittent on a scale exceeding days to nearly continuous. The occurrence of separate phase hydrocarbons at the sea floor is direct proof that postexpulsion migration in a separate phase exists in the subsurface as well.

Figure 2Schematic diagram of near-surface migration. Media through which hydrocarbons migrate are shown in boxes and processes are in gray lettering.

Sporadic escape suggests that the process often proceeds as small separate masses. Nearly continuous bubble trains support the occasional existence of longer continuous hydrocarbon stringers in the subsurface. As these stringers reach the free water surface, they break up due to surface tension. Gas bubbles rise rapidly due to their low density and expand as they move upward to lower pressure. If a bubble grows too large, it breaks up into smaller bubbles. Bubbles moving through the water column dissolve into the undersaturated water. If the bubble is small, it may dissolve before it reaches the water atmosphere interface. If the bubble contains significant quantities of liquids, these liquids plate out at the bubble surface, preventing the light gases from dissolving. The rate of bubble transport in the water column is high, and under most conditions, the lateral transport is slight (<45). The train of bubbles widens from a narrow point or line of entry at the sea floor to a cone that is most often narrower than 1 km at the surface. Surrounding this cone of bubbles is a zone of water with elevated dissolved hydrocarbons formed by solution of portions of the bubble train. This behavior is demonstrated by the occurrence of well-defined peaks on sniffer surveys surrounded by broad shoulders elevated above background.



Oil globules move more slowly and may be significantly displaced by water motion. Detection of dissolved hydrocarbons escaping through the sediment water interface is more difficult because this transport is not visible. Any dissolved hydrocarbons escaping through this interface are subject to rapid mixing and dilution by the overlying water mass. Broad regions of elevated hydrocarbon concentrations are detected by sniffer surveys. Where these occur near the sea floor they may indicate (1) escape of dissolved hydrocarbons over a broad area , (2) intermittent escape of bubbles over a large area, or (3) dispersive mixing and destruction of a discrete bubble train. Free Water with the Atmosphere Once a bubble reaches the wateratmospheric interface, it breaks and is rapidly mixed with the atmosphere. Globules form a slick, evaporating into the atmosphere and forming biodegraded masses or remaining as separate globules. Globules and biodegraded masses continue to lose volatiles to both the water and atmosphere and biodegrade until they sink or run aground. Hydrocarbons dissolved in the water column either escape to the atmosphere or are consumed by organisms. Williams et al. (1981) pointed out that the level of background hydrocarbons in sea water is higher in productive areas than in the open ocean. The degree to which solution of bubbles in the water column and transport of dissolved hydrocarbons through the sea floor each contribute to this phenomenon is unknown. Water-Wet Pores with Soil Air The behavior of hydrocarbons at the interface between water-wet pores and soil air is similar to that described above. Hydrocarbons in solution either come out of solution and join those already in the gas or liquid phase or are consumed by organisms. Hydrocarbons in a liquid phase spread out to form a free-floating mass subject to biological action, just like a slick at the seaair interface. These hydrocarbons can be sampled from shallow water wells. Portions of this mass are slowly transported upward into the soil air by gaseous migration, through diffusion or effusion, either alone or with a carrier gas, such as methane. Hydrocarbons in a gas phase move upward due to buoyancy and diffusion, aided by barometric pumping. The concentration of hydrocarbons decreases toward the soil airfree air interface due to dilution of the migrating gases with atmospheric gases. The concentration at any one point is therefore a function of the rate of hydrocarbon transport (controlling the volume of hydrocarbons delivered to that location), the rate of transport of atmospheric gases (controlling the volume of nonhydrocarbon gases delivered to that location), and the rate of destruction of hydrocarbons (and methane production) by organic activity. Statistically, the deeper the sample, the better, just like that observed offshore below the sedimentwater interface. Studies at Gulf Research and Development Company suggest that for drilled holes, a depth of 3.6 m (12 ft) provides stable readings. Probe

studies suggest that a depth of 1.2 m (4 ft) also provides stable data, but with reduced magnitudes. Depth profiles indicate that both increases and decreases in concentration can occur at any depth, with higher concentrations generally occurring below less permeable layers, similar to the behavior of mud logs but with reduced variation. This suggests that the concentration of hydrocarbons in the shallow surface (and in the deeper subsurface) is dependent on the three-dimensional permeability structure of the soil and rocks being sampled rather than a simple vertical mixing curve in a homogeneous medium. Despite this vertical variability, at any given depth, sites with high concentrations tend to be consistently high and sites with low values tend to be consistently low. Soil Air with the Atmosphere At the interface between soil air and the atmosphere, the concentration of hydrocarbons is fixed at or close to the average atmospheric concentration. Study of the concentration of hydrocarbons in tents sealed to the ground by Gulf Research and Development Company indicate that at low-level sites, the exchange occurs in both directions. The concentration of hydrocarbons in the air may increase above that in the atmosphere, presumably due to preferential expulsion of hydrocarbons from the soil air, or it may decrease, presumably due to preferential removal of hydrocarbons from the air by the soil. These exchanges are rapid, occurring within hours. At highlevel sites, the concentrations also vary but remain above atmospheric concentrations. Antropov et al. (1981) found similar behavior in the atmosphere over petroleum fields using adsorption gas lasers.


I have made a wide variety of observations about the characteristics of rocks during burial, their ability to transmit fluids, and the static distribution of hydrocarbons in them. These are summarized in this section under the following topics: sourcereservoir correlation, physical sizes, pore throat heterogeneity, fluid inclusions, phase behavior, hydrocarbon solution in water, diffusion, rates of hydrocarbon motion, mud log data, and seismic evidence.

SourceReservoir Correlation
The fact that oils can be chemically correlated with a particular source rock places a fundamental constraint on any proposed migration process. It strongly indicates that the expulsionmigration process does not significantly effect the overall geochemistry of the migrated product. However, there are also some differences. Thompson (1988) points out that reservoired hydrocarbons in close proximity to one another and geochemically matched to the same family or source are frequently dissimilar in

Chapter 11MigrationA View from the Top


Figure 3Comparative sizes of shale pores and molecules of hydrocarbon, water, and kerogen.

their light ends and other properties. This suggests that the migration and entrapment process has some control over the chemical characteristics of reservoired hydrocarbons, but in most cases this only affects the detailed chemistry, not the overall structure.

increasingly less likely as the traversed path lengthens due to the increased probability of a continuous large pore network terminating into a small pore throat. Indeed, even the flow of the comparatively small water molecule often requires significant pressure gradients to overcome the restrictions to flow common in shales.

Physical Sizes
The majority of hydrocarbon molecules are larger than the size of small shale pores and approximately equal to the median pore size of shales (Figure 3). Methane molecules are slightly larger than the size of small shale pores, and water molecules are slightly smaller. The lower range of oil colloids is within the range of median shale pores, while larger colloids and other hydrocarbon particulates, such as micelles and bitumen, are in the range of the largest shale pores. This suggests that water, methane, and the smaller paraffins and aromatics are capable of moving through shales in solution, but that the larger molecules, aggregates, and separate phases undergo various degrees of molecular filtration and capillary blockage in attempting to pass through all but the largest shale pores or open fractures. The effect of burial on shale permeability (proportional to pore throat size) is shown in Figure 4. Note that shale compaction results in a logarithmic decrease in permeability down to a depth of about 3.5 km. Beyond this depth, two factors vie for dominance: continued collapse of the pore network and the formation of micro- and macrofractures as the shale becomes more brittle (Neglia, 1979). This suggests that diffusion and aqueous solution transport may be practical for the smaller hydrocarbon molecules, but becomes increasingly less likely with increasing molecular size. Direct transport of larger separate phase particles, while possible through the large pores, becomes

Pore Throat Heterogeneity and Interstitial Continuity

The range of shale pore size is more than five orders of magnitudes (Figure 3). The effect of this heterogeneity is diagramatically represented in two dimensions in Figure 5, which shows the interconnectivity of 200 pore throats of five different sizes (1 to 5 units) randomly scattered in a regular pattern. Entry of hydrocarbons from a large pore network is assumed to occur at the bottom of the unit and exit into a similar unit at the top. There is no connection through this network that is composed exclusively of the largest (5-unit) pore throats. This is representative of a no-flow condition for hydrocarbons and is rarely if ever achieved in nature. It would represent a very fine grained, highly compacted, unfractured rock, such as an evaporite. A more typical fine-grained condition is shown in Figure 5a. The continuous networks of 4- and 5-unit pore throats are highlighted. Note that only one is continuous through the unit (5% of the potential exit pore throats). Continuous pore throat networks of increasingly larger diameter are shown in Figure 5b (3, 4, and 5 units) and Figure 5c (2, 3, 4, and 5 units). Note that the percentage of exit pore throats increases to 50% and 80%, respectively. The connection of all pore throats (1 to 5 units) represents a total flow condition, such as is expected for a reservoir rock rather than a seal.




Depth (km)


Permeability (darcys)
Figure 4Graph of permeability in Tertiary shales with depth. (After Neglia, 1979.)


The relationship between net path permeability and frequency of occurrence of a given path is summarized in Figure 6. The net path permeability of a given pore network is determined by the smallest pore throat in that path. Net paths with small permeability are therefore more common than paths with large net permeability, and the longer any particular path is, the greater the chance it will include a pore throat smaller than it currently contains. A three-dimensional model would have similar behavior, but the potential connections to large pore throats would rise (connections to other small pore throats have no effect), increasing the probability of a large pore network. This pore network is a modification of Mompers (1978), Lindgreen (1985), and Englands (1987) expulsion models. The connectivity of these pore throats governs the extent to which hydrocarbons, either as separate phases or dissolved molecules, are retarded by the seal. The usual situation is the sealing of a separate phase because most shales have pores in the ranges shown in Figure 3. To examine the flow of separate phases, the pore throats in Figure 5 are considered as fixed and the diameter of the curvature at the hydrocarbonwater interface is allowed to vary among the three diagrams (Figure 5a, b, c). At a constant interfacial tension, capillary pressure depends on the curvature of the interface between the hydrocarbon phase and water. The radius of curvature is determined by the diameter of the pore throat through which it must pass and the difference in pressure across that pore throat. If that pressure is small and the pore throat is small, there cannot be any separate phase hydrocarbon

Figure 5Diagrams of a pore network showing five possible pore throat sizes from 1 to 5 (smallest to largest, from bottom to top). (a) Pore throat sizes 4 and 5, with networks shown in black. (b) Pore throat sizes 3 and larger, with networks of sizes 4 and 5 shown in black and size 3 shown in vertical line pattern. (c) Pore throat sizes 2 and larger, with networks of sizes 3, 4 and 5 shown as before and size 2 shown in horizontal line pattern.

flow through the unit. The unit thus acts as a perfect seal, ignoring losses due to noncapillary processes. As the pressure rises, however, the radius of curvature at the pore throat interface decreases until a point is reached when hydrocarbons move through the largest continuous pore throat network present (Figure 5a). If this flow balances the rate of pressure buildup, a steady state arises between pressure buildup below the seal and leakage through the seal. If, however, the rate of pressure buildup continues, the curvature of the interface at the pore throats will continue to decrease and flow will take place through increasingly small pore throats (Figures 5b, c). The heterogeneous nature of seals thus allows them to adjust their rates of hydrocarbon leakage dynamically. One of the principal causes of pressure build up in reservoirs is the buoyancy of the hydrocarbon phase. As

Chapter 11MigrationA View from the Top


Fluid Inclusions
Fluid inclusions in diagenetic cements are samples of paleopore fluids that were trapped during precipitation of that cement. By incorporating the composition and PVT properties of the inclusions with geologic history and the diagenetic sequence in the area, a series of snapshots of the pore fluid characteristics as a function of time can be obtained (Burruss et al., 1983). These studies show that reservoir charging occurs in a discrete time interval, either as a series of events or as a continuously evolving process (Karlsen et al., 1993). Jensenius and Burruss (1990) found that some oils in inclusions seem to be a mixture of a biodegraded hump of C12 to C30 compounds and water-soluble low carbon number compounds. They suggest that the low carbon number component may arise due to exsolution from a later warm aqueous phase rising from depth. McLimans (1987) suggests that hydrocarbon inclusions in reservoirs originate from a separate phase consisting of drops from 140 m in diameter (the range of oil in water emulsions) (Figure 3), sufficiently dispersed to move freely within the reservoir pore space.

Figure 6Graph of expected frequency of net path permeability.

the reservoired column increases in height, the pressure at the interface increases, decreasing the radius of curvature at the interface and increasing the leakage through the seal. Similarly, as the rate of reservoir charging slows down, the rate of leakage also slows down. This model is essentially in agreement with laboratory simulations of separate-phase flow in porous medium by Catalan et al. (1992) and Dembicki and Anderson (1989) and with Schowalters (1979) observation that continuous filaments are formed only if the hydrocarbon concentration exceeds 4.517% of the pore volume. Examination of gaseous hydrocarbons in the cap rock of Snorre field in the North Sea (Lieth et al., 1993) indicates that, although diffusion plays a role in loss from the reservoir, bulk flow due to buoyancy is probably the dominant process. On rare occasions, seals may be dominated by fine pore throats, in which case, the rock acts like a molecular sieve. For dissolved phases, the size of the molecules is fixed. Therefore, the pore throat units are considered to increase from Figure 5a to 5c. A rock dominated by fine pore throats is diagramatically represented by Figure 5a. If we consider the pore throats of 4-unit width to represent 0.5 nm, the seal will slowly pass methane, and perhaps some ethane, due to the small percentage of available paths. The case in which the large pore (4-unit) throats are 0.2 nm is represented by Figure 5b. The larger normal paraffins and smaller aromatics can pass through the single large pore (4-unit) network, and methane and the smaller normal paraffins can pass through the more numerous 3-unit pore networks as well as the larger network. In Figure 5c, the large pore (4-unit) network is about 0.4 nm, the normal size of median pores. Under these conditions, the large pore network permits the passage of methane, the entire range of normal paraffins and aromatics, and all but the largest asphaltenes. The smaller pore networks pass the smaller hydrocarbons at a higher rate because of their greater frequency. Lindgreen (1987) documented molecular sieving in fine pore systems in source rocks and estimated that only one-fifth of the total pore volume was capable of transmitting normal paraffins.

Phase Behavior
Figure 7 shows the phase behavior of hydrocarbons with depth. The exact configuration of this diagram is a function of the particular mixture of hydrocarbons present; for simplicity, a single composition is considered. As products are expelled and migrate vertically, phase partitioning occurs. Consider an expulsed oil at a depth of 5 km with 30% gas. This oil migrates vertically without any significant changes until it reaches its bubble point at about 4 km. At this point, both a gas and oil phase coexist. The single gas bubble would contain about 25% dissolved oil. If these two phases continued to maintain contact and migrate vertically, the proportion of gas in the oil phases would decrease and the proportion of oil in the gas phase would similarly decrease. At a depth of 2 km, the gas phase would contain about 5% oil and the oil phase would contain about 15% gas, but the total proportion of gas would still be 0.3. Silverman (1965) combined phase behavior with selective trapping to produce a separation-migration mechanism. If the two phases separated at 3 km and continued to migrate vertically, at a depth of 2 km, the migrated gas phase would have 85% gas and the migrated oil phase would have 20% gas. The migrated gas and oil phases would both have a gas cap with 10% dissolved oil and oil legs with 5% gas, identical to the original unseparated product. The amounts of gas caps and their chemical compositions would, however, be different from one another and from the gas cap of the unseparated product. Separation-migration can significantly alter the gross composition of the migrated and trapped intervals. The general trends with migration from depth are as follows: hydrocarbon liquids lose low molecular weight compounds to a gaseous phase, becoming more dense, and hydrocarbon gases lose high molecular weight com-



Figure 8Graph of aqueous solubility versus carbon number for hydrocarbons at 25C. (After Tissot and Welte, 1984.)

Figure 7Graph of depth and temperature versus gas to gas + oil ratio showing hydrocarbon phase behavior. (After Pepper, 1991.)

approach to a solubility threshold or the microdroplets in the laboratory studies (Tissot and Welte, 1984). This compositional relationship differs significantly from that found in most reservoired oils. There are, however, a few light oils that show this relationship (Tissot and Welte 1984; Quanxing and Qiming, 1991). The occurrence of these light oils as a separate phase demonstrates that solution transport does occur and that it can reach conditions causing it to separate into a separate phase in considerable quantity. The infrequent occurrence of oils with this signature suggests that this process of migration is an exception rather than the rule.

pounds to a liquid phase, becoming less dense (England et al., 1987). Price et al. (1983) showed experimentally that sufficient oil can be transported in gas solution to charge reservoirs. Thompson (1988) documented that migration fractionation is a viable mechanism to explain the geochemistry of the Gulf Coast and more than half of all other U.S. oils. Migration fractionation involves reservoired oil being partially dissolved in an excess of methane, subsequent loss of the gaseous phase, leaving behind a residual oil with elevated light aromatics. The leaked gaseous phase condenses as pressure and temperature are reduced during vertical migration, forming retrograde condensates.

Studies of source and reservoir contacts show that diffusion of dissolved hydrocarbons occurs in the subsurface. Connan and Cassou (1980) and Leythaeuser et al (1984) have studied the relationship of sandstone and shale extracts in immature terrestrial organic sequences. They have shown that small quantities of hydrocarbons have been selectively depleted in the shales and accumulated in the sandstones. The greatest depletion in the shales occurred near the sandstone contacts while the greatest accumulation in the sandstone was associated with fractures. Paraffins, particularly the lighter compounds, were preferentially migrated. The sandstone extracts resemble a condensate or light oil while the depleted shale extract looked less mature and slightly biodegraded compared to the center of thick shales. The gradients shown in Figure 9 are explained by diffusion (Leythaeuser et al., 1983). However, benzene and toluene (water-soluble aromatics) had anomalously high transfer rates from the siltstone into the sandstone. This suggests that some transport of hydrocarbons may have been assisted by transport of water from the siltstone into the sandstone.

Hydrocarbon Solution in Water

Figure 8 shows the aqueous solubility of normal alkanes at 25C. The solubility decreases linearly with increasing carbon number, up to C12. Normal alkanes with carbon numbers greater than 12 show a much higher solubility than would be expected by extrapolation of the lower carbon number data. This may represent an

Chapter 11MigrationA View from the Top


Fraction of n-Alkanes

Figure 10Graph showing the time needed for hydrocarbons to diffuse a given distance and reach a concentration of one-half the concentration of a nondepleted source.

Figure 9Graph of depth versus n-alkane fraction showing the concentration of hydrocarbons at the transition from a source to a sandstone.

Rates of Hydrocarbon Motion

Estimation of rates of hydrocarbon migration from source to reservoir are difficult at best. Estimates of rates of diffusion can be calculated theoretically, measured experimentally, and compared to concentration gradients away from concentrated sources. Active transport systems are much more difficult to constrain due to the uncertainties in the time of expulsion and entrapment. Diffusion of light hydrocarbons in a water-filled porous system is extremely slow. Figure 10 shows the time it takes a light hydrocarbon to diffuse a given distance and reach a concentration level equal to one-half the concentration in an irreducible source. The larger diffusion coefficient is more typical of sandstone and the smaller one is more typical of shale. This is consistent with the findings of Zarrella et al. (1967) who showed that dissolved benzene and toluene followed a diffusion gradient horizontally for miles in sandstone but was vertically absent in the over- and underlying sections. This suggests that diffusion is not a practical transport mechanism in shale, except for short distances or at its boundary with sandstone. England et al. (1987) calculated that for distances greater than 10100 m, diffusion is insignifi-

cant relative to bulk flow. An exception to this is methane and ethane. Diffusion would be expected to transport light hydrocarbons only tens of meters into a shale capping a reservoir. Despite this, significant quantities of light hydrocarbons can diffuse into a cap rock (Krooss et al., 1992). If the shale was fractured, the diffusion coefficient would only increase slightly , because the fractures would occupy a small percentage of the shale. Diffusion of larger hydrocarbons is less likely as an appreciable transport mechanism because the diffusion of hydrocarbons is related to the size of the molecule (Figure 9). Cathles and Smith (1983) estimated that periodic fluid migration events greater than 1000 times the normal rates were necessary to form Mississippi Valley type lead-zinc deposits by expulsion of basin brines. They suggest that overpressure conditions build to a point where the section fractures, releasing large volumes of fluid over short periods of time. As the fluids escape, the pressure is released and the fractures close. The pressures then build up and the cycle repeats at intervals of about 1 m.y. at depths of more than ~30004500 m (~10,00015,000 ft). The flux rate of hydrocarbon transport in the subsurface is viewed as both parallel and series processes. Parallel processes are diffusive transport, aqueous transport in solution and as micelles, and separate phase transport. Series transport is the set of processes that are dominant sequentially along the most effective migration path. Any compositional constraint placed by any process (such as solution in water) can impact the characteristics of the migrated product from then on. From a linear rate standpoint, the least efficient process along this path is the rate-limiting step, controlling the overall rate of the process. In a sequence of sandstone and shale, the rate delimiter would be the least permeable shale. However, flux rates of a nonwetting separate phase, particularly through shales, are self-adjusting. This is accomplished by changing the area through which the linear process operates. Small dips in the section focus water and hydrocarbon flow laterally to an area where vertical flow becomes dominant (Roberts, 1980). Free-phase hydrocar-



bons accumulate in large pore systems underlying the restrictive shale, spreading out into a commercial or noncommercial accumulation. This increases the hydrocarbon flux rate through the overlying shale by increasing its surface area, making up for the low rate per unit area.

Seepage Patterns
Surface macroseepage occurs in areally restricted locations and is direct evidence of hydrocarbon migration in a separate phase. Link (1952) studied worldwide occurrence of macroseeps and concluded that they occur dominantly along high-permeability pathways such as faults, fractures, unconformities, and pore networks in outcropping reservoirs. The linearity and spatial variability of macroseeps is particularly well illustrated by Preston (1980). Microseep studies by Jones and Drozd (1983), Zorkin et al. (1977), and others often demonstrate the preferential pathway concept, particularly the role of faults and fractures. Preferential seepage up outcropping reservoir rock and through the fractured crest of an anticline is demonstrated by Matthews et al. (1984). The role of faults in focusing seepage is demonstrated by Jones and Thune (1982), Matthews et al. (1984), Burtell et al. (1986), and Abrams (1992). Wakita et al. (1978) has shown that gas microseepage up faults occurs in spatially distinct areas (spots), similar to that shown for gas macroseepage by Preston (1980). In macroseepage, there is a clear, visible distinction between where seepage is occurring and where it is not occurring. The replacement of visual observation with sensitive instrumentation removes the ability to conveniently distinguish areas of no seepage from seepage. Instead, there is a seepage continuum from the smallest level the machine can detect to visible seepage. The dominant mechanism of seepage at large-magnitude sampling locations is the samebulk flow of a separate phase. Microseepage magnitudes of light hydrocarbons in soil air vary from atmospheric levels, to elevated moderate levels, to percent levels. Atmospheric levels in soil air undoubtedly represent as close to no seepage as possible. Percent levels represent massive active seepage as a gas phase. Moderate levels also exist and are ambiguous in their mode of origin and their significance. They may represent the end of a dissolved phase migration path or diffusive mixing of a moderately active gas phase with atmospheric air in the soil profile. Experience shows, however, that when closely spaced samples are taken, the boundaries between high- and lowmagnitude sites are usually less than 400 m and often just a few meters. In one instance, soil gas magnitudes varied several orders of magnitude within 100 m. The boundary was recognized to occur over a distance of centimeters by the presence of bubble formation at the soil surface as rain began to saturate the soil and by the drying pattern when the rain had ceased (V. T. Jones, personal communication, 1978). The spatial proximity of surface hydrocarbon concentrations that differ by orders of magnitude, in both land and marine surveys, requires effusive transport of a separate phase, not solution transport. High-resolution marine seismic surveys reveal the presence of shallow gas in the upper 600 m of sediment and up into the water column. The existence of considerable quantities of shallow gas has been proved many times by the collapse of offshore platforms. Analysis of

Mud Log Data

Mud log data are the most abundant subsurface geochemical data available. In general, they are an adequate representation of vertical variations in light gases and fluorescing compounds. Vertical trends in light gases are highly variable, but generally show an increase as the source-generative section is approached. They also show orders of magnitude changes in a few feet to tens of feet and rapid compositional shift of light gases and heavier compounds. High values are generally related to the occurrence of mature source rocks, top of overpressured zones, faults, and reservoirs. Detailed geochemical studies, including isotopic analysis, often show a smoothly increasing gradient, consistent with increasing maturity. Superimposed on this gradient are isolated spikes of hydrocarbons with maturities characteristic of much deeper conditions. This suggests migration from a deeper source, through an intervening section, with little mixing or other effects from the intervening section.

Seismic Evidence
Vertical chains of seismic bright spots have been seen in the Gulf of Mexico, Nigeria, and other offshore areas. In many cases, the bright spots are associated with sandstones adjacent to faults and are occasionally recognized within fault zones. The most dramatic chain of bright spots is at Ekofisk in the North Sea where they are associated with a gas chimney of poor data and a low-velocity sag at the reservoir level (Van den Bark and Thomas, 1980).


Surface geochemical surveys represent the end of the migration pathway. As such, they offer the best opportunity for understanding the spatial patterns of migration and cross-formational flow. The compositional and magnitude information is, however, subject to the boundary conditions previously discussed. Therefore, caution must be exercised in comparing this information with deeper studies. Of particular importance is the volume change of free gas associated with decreasing pressure as the hydrocarbons migrate toward the surface. This volume increase makes the gas more visible to seismic profiling, makes it more measurable through collection, and increases its rate of motion due to buoyancy. Topics discussed in this section include seepage patterns, compositional relationships to the subsurface, variation with time, and the rate of transport.

Chapter 11MigrationA View from the Top


hazard surveys by Salisbury (1990) suggests two pathways, fault planes, and localized pervasive vertical leakage (gas chimneys). Where the vertical seepage is interrupted by a competent seal, horizontal migration along siltstone and sandstone layers is observed. This pattern of migration is consistent with the onshore pattern of gas migration over a leaking gas storage reservoir at Mont Belview, Texas, studied by Gulf Research. Bubble trails in the water column, revealed by echo sounders and side-scan sonar, indicate that in many cases the transport of gases is an active process (Judd, 1990). Side-scan sonar shows that these gas plumes in the water column often originate from pockmarks or mounds on the sea floor, arranged along what appear to be the surface trace of faults. McQuillin and Fannin (1979) report occasional plumes of sediment in the water column up to heights of 10 m from the sea bed. Numerous sniffer surveys by Gulf Research and others have documented the association of these plumes with both thermogenic and biogenic hydrocarbons. In a few cases, unidentified nonhydrocarbon gases were also observed. Gravity core studies (Kennicutt et al., 1988) and analysis of collected bubbles reveals that oils reach the sea floor as a separate phase in considerable quantities (Clarke and Cleverly, 1991).

process is efficient, a continuous stream of bubbles moves from the sediment into the water column. Where the process is inefficient, a patchy distribution of shallow gas pockets is formed. These pockets increase in size until they overcome the capillary restrictions of the sediment or, more likely, catastrophically break through to the water column by rupturing the sediment.

Variation with Time

Surface seepage at any particular location is time variable. Attempts to reoccupy a previous sampling site usually result in merely being close to the original location and confounding spatial changes with temporal changes. Broad patterns hold over time, provided the subsurface conditions do not change significantly within that time interval. The survey of Dickinson and Matthews (1993) was performed over two field seasons, but the pattern of anomalies held between the two surveys. In subsequent years, other surveys were undertaken enlarging the survey area. These surveys extended edge anomalies of the previous surveys seamlessly. There is, however, a change in surface magnitudes that is recognized in a longer time frame. Significant reservoir pressure decreases related to production lower the magnitudes of surface gases (Horvitz, 1969). Permanent stations remove the uncertainty of spatial positioning in temporal sampling. These stations show remarkable repeatability, usually less than a factor of ten, if human activity is minimal. The near surface, however, is not a static system. Variations in surface hydrocarbon concentrations are linked to atmospheric pressure changes and earthquakes. Barometric pressure changes propagate downward in excess of 150 m (Figure 11) (Meents, 1958). This periodic pressure change is capable of causing minute expansions and contractions of gaseous free phases within water-wet systems. Seismic events also cause short-term variations (in hours) in hydrocarbon concentration (Zorkin et al., 1977; Antropov, 1981; Burtell, 1989).

Compositional Relationships with Subsurface

Jones and Drozd (1983) and Williams et al. (1981) demonstrated that light gas compositions in the surface and subsurface are similar in broad compositional classes for both soils and marine waters. The majority of oil seeps resemble reservoired hydrocarbons (Kennicutt et al., 1988). These correlations indicate bulk flow with little or no modification by other processes along the migration pathway to the surface. Numerous studies by Gulf and Texaco Research on land and in the oceans demonstrate the spatial proximity of zones of high-magnitude compositionally dissimilar samples that are correlatable to the composition of reservoired hydrocarbons in the subsurface. These relationships indicate that multiple pathways from depth exist and that often little or no mixing or alteration occurs along these paths. However, Illich et al. (1984) reported an oil seep that is compositionally similar to that expected from solution transport. The occurrence of an oil phase of this composition at the surface may mean that it leaked from a subsurface accumulation formed by solution transport or that it evolved from solution transport near the surface. Sweeney (1988) found that in the organically lean shallow sediments of the North Sea, both diffusion and freephase transport of thermogenic hydrocarbons occurs. The diffusion transport of these hydrocarbons to the near surface was effectively eliminated by bacterial oxidation in the sediment. The free-phase transport, however, has limited contact area with the bacterial zone, resulting in leakage to the sedimentwater interface. Where the

Rate of Transport
Linear rate measurements at the surface are seldom made because of the uncertainty associated with depth of origin and cross-sectional area. Linear rate estimates in the upper 200 m are on the order of tens of meters per day, based on known times of injection of gas into storage reservoirs and subsurface coal burns (Jones and Thune, 1982). Arp (1992) summarized estimates of vertical seepage velocities as 75300 m per year. Volume rate estimates have been made in the marine environment by collecting bubbles. The average oil seep flow rate compiled by Clarke and Cleverly (1991) is 50 m3 (300 bbl) per year. These rates clearly indicate separate phase migration along narrow migration pathways. Diffusion rates and solution transport are much slower but operate over much larger areas.



Figure 11Graph showing atmospheric-driven pressure changes in a gas sandstone at ~150 m (500 ft) depth. (After Meents, 1958.)

Much variation exists in the characteristics of subsurface and surface hydrocarbons. Since it is clear that a single mechanism is incapable of explaining these variations, we must conclude that hydrocarbon migration occurs by many mechanisms and each case may or may not have significant local effects. Thus, our task is to discover the dominant pattern of migration and the nature of the exceptions. It is my opinion that the dominant migration mechanism is as a free phase interacting with a heterogeneous rock framework. Except in rare instances, separate phase migration occurs along the entire preferential migration path, from source to surface. The only significant process responsible for modifying the composition of the migrating hydrocarbons is phase separation, aided by the characteristics of the seals along the migration path. The success of geochemical sourcereservoir correlation techniques is the strongest of many arguments indicating that the dominant migration mechanism is as a free phase and not as solution. Solution transport, both by diffusion and active water transport, does occur and probably represents the largest reservoir of light gas in the subsurface. It is dominantly a dispersive mechanism, selectively removing the more soluble compounds from hydrocarbon masses, both stationary and in transport, leaving what have been called water-washed accumulations. The kilometer-long diffusion gradients of benzene and toluene within reservoirs demonstrate the effectiveness of this process. The lack of significant transport of benzene and toluene across adjacent shales argues against both diffusion and active aqueous solution transport as a dominant mechanism of accumulation. The rapid variation with depth of mud log composition and magnitude indicates that diffusion generally does not extend smoothly to the surface or great distances vertically. The ability to concentrate hydrocarbons by solution, either through diffusion or advection, is also limited by the constraints of low solubility and the limited supply of compaction water at maturation depths. The saturation of water by hydrocar-

bons and subsequent migration is, however, supported by a few instances of surface measurements characteristic of solution transport. The existence of a few oil fields with compositions similar to that expected from solution demonstrates that accumulations may form by this process, but they are the exception, not the rule. Most reservoired hydrocarbons have compositions that are controlled by the characteristics of their source rock, not the processes of their transportation. Diffusion of light hydrocarbons into cap rocks explains the abundance of reservoirs undersaturated with light gases. Micellar transport of hydrocarbons is not considered a dominant mechanism. The amount of solubilizer in the micelle is many times the amount of solubilized hydrocarbon. These solubilizers are seldom detected in reservoirs and source rocks in abundant quantities. Transport of hydrocarbons along a kerogen network is limited to rocks with TOC contents over about 1%. These constitute a small percentage of most migration paths. It may be an important expulsion mechanism within source rocks, but it would seem to render these source rocks relatively ineffective as a top seal. Since many source rocks do act as top seals, the mechanism is thought to be an exception. Selective adsorption of hydrocarbons has been proposed to occur along the migration path. This is not thought to be a significant factor. The movement of a free phase through the pore network minimizes contact area and time, reducing the opportunity for adsorption. The pore network does not act as a chromatographic column, except as one that is saturated. Only in the first and last stages of a migration event would any chromatographic separation be noticeable.

General Model
Separate phase migration is significantly effected by the heterogeneous nature of rocks, particularly those classified as seals. The heterogeneity of shales is such that, over a large area, capillary restrictions are believed to rarely be 100% effective. In most cases, there is at least one pathway that will leak, albeit slowly. As the accumulation

Chapter 11MigrationA View from the Top


grows, the number of leakage pathways also grows, both because of increased buoyancy pressure opening up previously restricted pathways and because the increased areal extent of the growing accumulation intersects other leakage pathways. Figure 5, previously discussed from a pore system viewpoint, also serves as a model for macroscopic leakage behavior. Depositional facies are not internally random; there is structure to their deposition and spatial characteristics. They are fractile in nature. Thus, there are local concentrations of large pore throat networks and more extensive regions dominated by small pore networks. This translates into areally restricted regions of high flux rate and broad regions of almost no flow due to capillary heterogeneity. The rate-limiting step in postexpulsion migration of hydrocarbons is the transition from coarse to fine pore throat systems. This system is self-adjusting. A consequence of this process is the dynamic formation, maintenance, and destruction of oil and gas fields.

Postexpulsion Model
The motion of hydrocarbons during postexpulsion migration involves four repetitive conditions. First, as capillary imbibition causes hydrocarbons to move into a carrier from discrete pore networks in the source or a seal, they thin and separate into bubbles or droplets. Second, within the carrier bed, buoyancy (assisted by gas expansion) is a major control on migration. Water velocities generated by compaction are generally insignificant compared to buoyancy-driven velocities and as a first approximation can be ignored. In these cases, lateral transport of hydrocarbons is caused by the dip of the contact between the seal and the carrier bed. Water velocities due to topographic driven flow are, however, significantly higher and can locally dominate buoyancy. This can result in significant lateral transport due to water flow, both updip under the seal and downdip (Hubbert, 1953). Once a trapping configuration is reached, the hydrocarbons accumulate under a seal. At this point, the hydrocarbons become a coherent slug and cease to act as discrete droplets. Buoyancy pressure increases as the mass grows. Third, the flow of hydrocarbons from a reservoir into a seal is dominated by the penetration of a separate phase. This is accomplished by buoyant pressure overcoming capillary restriction. Finally, within the seal, the hydrocarbons move through discrete pathways of one or more continuous threads until they encounter a carrier bed. At this point, capillary imbibition once again becomes dominant and the first condition (above) is repeated. This breaks the thread at each carrier unit, constraining the buoyant force to reservoirseal couplets. As the hydrocarbons move vertically through the section, they continuously reequilibrate into gas and oil phases. These phases may stay in contact, but are often partitioned into different accumulation sites due to differences in migration pathways (spillage of oil and capillary leakage of gas or oil) and the vector differences in gas and oil when water flow is significant.

The rates of leakage through the sequence of seals between the source rock and the earths surface control the pattern of hydrocarbon accumulations along the postexpulsion migration route and both the magnitudes and spatial properties of surface seepage. This complex system is idealized into three successive seals for purposes of discussion (Figure 12). Shortly after hydrocarbons begin to be expelled from the source rock (time 02, Figure 12) they begin to appear at the surface in low-magnitude, spatially dispersed sites. This results in an elevated background population with occasional spikes (abnormally high magnitudes) caused by preferential migration pathways extending from the source rock to the surface. Some of the spikes are located near the crest of structures, while others are scattered along the surface projection of migration pathways to these structures. Once the hydrocarbons reach the upper boundary of the first carrier unit above their source (seal A), they migrate to a trapping configuration (time 01, Figure 12). The hydrocarbons accumulate there, building up both buoyancy pressure (because of the increased height of the hydrocarbon mass) and water pressure (because the hydrocarbons restrict the area the water has to flow through). If seal A has many large pore networks, only a small pressure gradient is required to carry hydrocarbons through it, leaving a small amount behind. If the volume rate of charge into the carrier is greater than can be accommodated by the large pore networks at the top of the trapping configuration, both hydrocarbon height and areal extent increase until an accommodation of reservoir charge and leakage is accomplished, and the reservoir enters a steady-state condition (time 16, Figure 12). Leakage through seal A increases steadily as pressure opens new pathways and the lateral expansion of the hydrocarbon mass encounters new pore networks capable of leaking. The accumulation below seal A disappears (time 68, Figure 12) as the rate of charging falls below the rate of leakage. The hydrocarbons leaking through seal A migrate in the new carrier unit until they reach a trapping configuration under seal B (for convenience, the finest seal in the system). A large mass of hydrocarbons can be accommodated under seal B. As this reservoir begins to grow (time 14, Figure 12), both in size and thickness, the rate of leakage also grows due to increased pressure and increased opportunity. The reservoir may even fill to the spill point (time 4, Figure 12). As leakage through seal B increases, regional surface seepage increases in magnitude and number (times 24, Figure 12). Surface locations at the end of preferential migration pathways connected to the trapping configuration under seal B markedly increase in spike spatial density due to the subsurface concentration of hydrocarbons that are beginning to form coherent clusters of higher magnitudes rather than isolated spikes. When seal B reaches maximum capacity (time 4, Figure 12), the rate of leakage is controlled by the rate of expulsion from the source rock. The hydrocarbons leaking through seal B (time 2, Figure 12) progress through a carrier system until they



Surface Leakage

Accumulation Below C Rate Delivered to C

Accumulation Below B Rate Delivered to B

Accumulation Below A

Rate of Expulsion

Cumulative Expulsion 01 2 3 4 5 67 Time 8 9

Figure 12Schematic diagram of the postexpulsion model showing the evolution of subsurface accumulations and seepage from a source through three seals (A, B, and C) to the surface. See text for details.

encounter seal C. For illustrative purposes, seal C only accumulates hydrocarbons under it when the leakage rate from B is near a maximum (time 4, Figure 12). At lower leakage rates from B, seal C is essentially transparent to migrating hydrocarbons. Surface leakage grows in magnitude, extent, and density as long as the reservoir under seal B is growing or being charged beyond capacity (time 25, Figure 12) and will reach a maximum when reservoir C is fully charged (time 5). From time 5 to 6 in Figure 12, the reservoirs below all three seals are charged to maximum capacity and surface seepage is also at a maximum, being controlled by the rate of expulsion from the source rock. During these times, surface seepage magnitudes are at a maximum and the clustering of these spikes is best developed, in response to migration up the maximum number of preferential pathways connecting the surface to the accumulations. When the rate of expulsion from the source rock falls below the rate needed to maintain the accumulation below seal A (after time 6, Figure 12), the accumulation below seal B is at first maintained by a high rate of leakage of hydrocarbons stored below seal A (time 67, Figure 12). Surface seepage remains constant during this time with high magnitudes and a well-developed clustering of spikes, supported by equilibrium leakage from the accumulations below seals B and C. The accumulation below seal B decreases in thickness and areal extent as charging from below decreases and becomes insignificant (after time 7, Figure 12). The rate of leakage through seal B simultaneously decreases as the reservoir diminishes. Surface seepage decreases slightly at his time (time 78, Figure 12), with the magnitudes diminishing and the clustering of spikes beginning to degrade as more and more preferential pathways are abandoned due to capillary forces overcoming the upward pressure of the hydrocarbons. Seepage is maintained by the excess rate of charging below seal C. Once the accumulation below seal C begins to decrease, the rate of surface seepage is supported by the steady-state seepage through seal C (time 89, Figure 12). The surface pattern of spike clustering begins to degrade and the magnitudes decrease slightly. Once the accumulation below seal C is depleted, the surface seepage falls sharply (time 9, Figure 12) and is supported entirely by the low rate of seepage through the best seal of the sequence (seal B). Seal C is totally transparent at these seepage rates. As the accumulation below seal B winds down, the surface seepage does also, decreasing in magnitude and both spatial coherence and frequency of spikes, once again returning to low levels with scattered low-magnitude spikes, indicating a general lack of focused migration of hydrocarbons. As expulsion stops, the system winds down. As each successive reservoir ceases to leak, the residual hydrocarbons in the reservoirs and along the migration pathways are purged by diffusion and active transport in solution by migrating waters. Where temperature and other biological requirements permit, biodegradation also assists these processes. Indeed, these processes are active from the moment maturation starts, but are not dominant during

Chapter 11MigrationA View from the Top


active expulsion, when separate phase migration overwhelms their abilities. As the hydrocarbons move into lower temperature and pressure conditions, phase separation proceeds, partitioning compounds into gaseous and liquid phases. During postexpulsion migration, these two phases may be physically separated by a combination of trapping configurations and seal behavior. These processes, combined with the potential for multiple source rocks, at different levels of maturity, and at different migration routes to different reservoirs and mixing within the same reservoir, can lead to a very complex system with spatially distinct and mixed surface hydrocarbon compositions. The preferential occurrence of hydrocarbon-filled inclusions along fractures and at specific diagenetic stages supports the hypothesis that hydrocarbon migration occurs in a relatively narrow time interval. The combination of a relatively narrow migration route with a short time interval minimizes contact of the migrating hydrocarbons with water during migration. Thus, hydrocarbon migration can be thought of as slug flow, an idea supported by the observations of Zarrella et al. (1967). If migrating oil were exposed to water over a long time with a large area-to-volume ratio, one would expect that much of the benzene and toluene produced in the source rock would have been removed. This does not seem to be the case, supporting some sort of solution-protected migration. As a slug of hydrocarbons migrates through shallower hydrocarbons, the small contact area and time minimizes compositional changes in the migrating phase. If the upward-driving force is greater than the driving force of the shallow accumulations, the amount of mixing is slight. This is similar to an open hole completion: the formations with higher excess pressure generally dominate flow into the borehole. Thus, the general background trend of increased concentration and increased gas wetness observed in many mud logs is dominantly a product of the static local generation of unmigrated hydrocarbons with no drive. The higher concentrations observed in sandstones, with compositions similar to the overall trend of compositional change in the well, represent locally generated hydrocarbons that have accumulated in a sandstone near the source. The higher concentrations, with compositions dissimilar to the nearby background composition and isotopic values suggestive of higher maturation conditions, represent migrated hydrocarbons that were generated from a deeper source. These actively migrating hydrocarbons are the ones that make it to the surface, retaining their compositional similarity to the reservoired hydrocarbons, despite the presence of intervening minor accumulations. This theory predicts that at every coarsefine interface the rate of transport slows to adjust itself with time to balance input and output. Siddiqui and Lake (1992) point out that one result of capillary trapping theory is that a different hydrocarbon column height should exist at every coarsefine grain transition and that this is generally not noted. Wells are usually drilled overbalanced. Despite this, mud logs show a wide range of concentra-

tion variation that may be evidence of this hydrocarbon concentration. A well is essentially a one-dimensional sampling of a three-dimensional field. It should not be expected that all sandstoneshale transitions should have hydrocarbon concentration at them. Well-executed mud logs show, however, many small variations in concentration occur and that the higher concentrations are generally correlated with sandstones below shales. Surface seepage is the end of the migration process. The narrowness of the migration pathways, from both reservoirs and source rocks, to the surface and the speed of this migration maintain the chemical signature of the migrating hydrocarbons. Chemical and mechanical diffusion broadens and decreases the magnitude of seepage as the separate hydrocarbon phase reaches the surface. Biogenic activity uses part of the diffused hydrocarbon seepage as a feedstock, altering its composition and adding biogenic methane. The presence of mature hydrocarbons at the surface of the earth is indisputable proof that an active source rock exists in the subsurface. The composition of these hydrocarbons is similar to those generated by the source or modified by phase separation during migration and entrapment. The spatial pattern of seepage is controlled by the complexities of the migration pathway to the surface. Thus, the challenge in joining surface geochemistry with subsurface information is defining this subsurface migration pathway and improving our ability to predict subsurface accumulations along this pathway. AcknowledgmentsI wish to thank Hollis Hedberg, Ted Weismann, Ed Driver, Bill Glezen, Vic Jones, Dick Mousseau, Bob Pirkle, and numerous other workers at Gulf Research for the many discussions that helped generate my interest in this topic and formulate many of the opinions presented here. I particularly wish to thank Grover Schrayer, Bill Roberts, and Vaughn Robison for discussion and reviewing the manuscript.

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Chapter 11MigrationA View from the Top


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