Petroleum deposits form as a consequence of the increased temperatures that accompany progressive burial of organic matter deep within sedimentary basins. Recent advances in petroleum geochemistry suggest that inorganic sedimentary components participate in organic transformations associated with this process. Water is particularly important because it facilitates reaction mechanisms not available in dry environments, and may contribute hydrogen and oxygen for the formation of hydrocarbons and oxygenated alteration products. These findings suggest that petroleum generation and stability is influenced by subsurface chemical environments, and is a simple function of time, temperature and the composition of sedimentary organic matter.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Method for identifying effective carbonate source rocks: a case study from Middle–Upper Ordovician in Tarim Basin, China
Petroleum Science Open Access 19 September 2020
International Journal of Coal Science & Technology Open Access 23 April 2020
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Tissot, B. P. & Welte, D. H. Petroleum Formation and Occurrence (Springer, New York, 1984).
Hunt, J. M. Petroleum Geochemistry and Geology (W.H. Freeman, San Francisco, 1996).
Miknis, F. P., Turner, T. F., Berdan, G. L. & Conan, P. J. Formation of soluble products from thermal decomposition of Colorado and Kentucky oil shales. Energy Fuels 1, 477–483 (1987).
Lewan, M. D. Experiments on the role of water in petroleum formation. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 61, 3691–3723 (1997).
Ziegel, E. R. & Gorman, J. W. Kinetic moedlling with mutltiresponse data. Technometrics 22, 139–151 (1980).
Burnham, A. K. in Composition, Geochemistry and Conversion of Oil Shales (ed. Shape, C. E.) 211–227 (D. Reidel, Dordrecht, 1995).
Kissin, Y. V. Catagenesis and composition of petroleum: origin of n-alkanes and isoalkanes in petroleum. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 51, 2445–2457 (1987).
Hunt, J. M. Generation and migration of light hydrocarbons. Science 226, 1265–1270 (1984).
Lewan, M. D. Evaluation of petroleum generation by hydrous pyrolysis. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 315, 123–134 (1985).
Orr, W. L. Kerogen/asphaltene/sulfur relationships in sulfur-rich Monterey oils. Org. Geochem. 10, 499–516 (1986).
Baskin, D. K. & Peters, K. E. Early generation characteristics of a sulfur-rich Monterey oils. Org. Geochem. 10, 499–516 (1986).
Tomic, J., Behar, F., Vandenbroucke, M. & Tang, Y. Artificial maturation of Monterey kerogen (Type II-S) in a closed system and comparison with Type II kerogen: implications on the fate of sulfur. Org. Geochem. 23, 647–660 (1995).
Lewan, M. D. Sulfur-radical control on rates of natural petroleum formation. Nature 391, 164–166 (1998).
Brooks, B. T. Evidence of catalytic action in petroleum formation. Indust. Eng. Chem. 44, 2570–2577 (1952).
Goldstein, T. P. Geocatalytic reactions in formation and maturation of petroleum. Bull. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 67, 152–159 (1983).
Tannenbaum, E., Huizinga, B. J. & Kaplan, I. R. Role of minerals in thermal alteration of organic matter-II: A material balance. Bull. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 70, 1156–1165 (1986).
Tannenbaum, E. & Kaplan, I. R. Low-M, hydrocarbons generated during hydrous and dry pyrolysis of kerogen. Nature 317, 708–709 (1985).
Price, L. C. Thermal stability of hydrocarbons in nature: Limits, evidence, characteristics, and possible controls. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 57, 3261–3280 (1993).
Hoering, T. C. Thermal reaction of kerogen with added water, heavy water, and pure organic substances. Org. Geochem. 5, 267–278 (1984).
Stalker, L., Farrimond, P. & Larter, S. R. Water as an oxygen source for the production of oxygenated compounds (including CO2 precursors) during kerogen maturation. Adv. Org. Geochem. 22, 477–486 (1994).
Schimmelmann, A., Bondon, J. P., Lewan, M. D. & Wintsch, R. P. Experimental controls on D/H and 13C/12C ratios of kerogen, bitumen and oil during hydrous pyrolysis. Org. Geochem. 32, 1009–1018 (2001).
Cooles, G. P., Mackenzie, A. S. & Parkes, R. J. Non-hydrocarbons of significance in petroleum exploration: volatile fatty acids and non-hydrocarbon gases. Mineral. Mag. 51, 483–493 (1987).
Price, L. C. & Wenger, L. M. The influence of pressure on petroleum generation and maturation as suggested by aqueous pyrolysis. Org. Geochem. 19, 141–159 (1992).
Andresen, B., Throndsen, T., Barth, T. & Bolstad, J. Thermal generation of carbon dioxide and organic acids from different source rocks. Org. Geochem. 21, 1229–1242 (1994).
Seewald, J. S., Benitez-Nelson, B. C. & Whelan, J. K. Laboratory and theoretical constraints on the generation and composition of natural gas. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 62, 1599–1617 (1998).
Sweeney, J. J., Braun, R. L., Burnham, A. K., Talukdar, S. & Vallejos, C. Chemical kinetic model of hydrocarbon generation, expulsion, and destruction applied to the Maracaibo Basin, Venezuela. Bull. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 79, 1515–1532 (1995).
Hunt, J. M., Whelan, J. K., Eglinton, L. B. & Cathles, L. M. III. in Abnormal Pressures in Hydrocarbon Environments (eds Law, B. E., Ulmishek, G. F. & Slavin, V. I.) 87–104 (AAPG Memoir 70, 1998).
Espitalie, J., Makadi, K. S. and Trichet, J. Role of mineral matrix during kerogen pyrolysis. Org. Geochem. 6, 365–382 (1984).
Horsfield, B. & Douglas, A. G. The influence of minerals on the pyrolysis of kerogens. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 44, 1119–1131 (1980).
Huizinga, B. J., Tannenbaum, E. & Kaplan, I. R. The role of minerals in the thermal alteration of organic matter-III. Generation of bitumen in laboratory experiments. Org. Geochem. 11, 591–604 (1987).
Lafargue, E., Espitalie, J., Jacobsen, T. & Eggen, S. Experimental simulation of hydrocarbon expulsion. Org. Geochem. 16, 121–131 (1989).
Treiber, L. E., Archer, D. L. & Owens, W. W. Laboratory evaluation of the wettability of 55 oil producing reservoirs. Soc. Petrol. Engin. J. 12, 531–540 (1992).
Karlsen, D., Nedkvitne, T., Larter, S. R. & Bjørlykke, K. Hydrocarbon composition of authigenic inclusions: Application to elucidation of petroleum reservoir filling history. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 57, 3641–3659 (1993).
Siskin, M. & Katritzky, A. R. Reactivity of organic compounds in hot water: Geochemical and technological implications. Science 254, 231–237 (1991).
Taylor, P., Bennett, B., Jones, M. & Larter, S. The effect of biodegradation and water washing on the occurrence of alkylphenols in crude oils. Org. Geochem. 32, 341–358 (2001).
Seewald, J. S. Evidence for metastable equilibrium between hydrocarbons under hydrothermal conditions. Nature 370, 285–287 (1994).
McCollom, T. M., Seewald, J. S. & Simoneit, B. R. T. Reactivity of monocyclic aromatic compounds under hydrothermal conditions. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 65, 455–468 (2001).
Seewald, J. S. Aqueous geochemistry of low molecular weight hydrocarbons at elevated temperatures and pressures: constraints from mineral buffered laboratory experiments. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 65, 1641–1644 (2001).
Helgeson, H. C., Knox, A. M., Owens, C. E. & Shock, E. L. Petroleum, oil field waters, and authigenic mineral assemblages: Are they in metastable equilibrium in hydrocarbon reservoirs? Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 57, 3295–3339 (1993).
Orr, W. L. Changes in sulfur content and isotopic ratios of sulfur during petroleum maturation; study of Big Horn Basin Paleozoic oils, advances in petroleum geochemistry. Bull. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 58, 2295–2318 (1974).
Krouse, H. R., Viau, C. A., Eliuk, L. S., Ueda, A. & Halas, S. Chemical and isotopic evidence of thermochemical sulphate reduction by light hydrocarbon gases in deep carbonate reservoirs. Nature 333, 415–419 (1988).
Machel, H. G., Krouse, H. R., Riciputi, L. R. & Cole, D. R. in Geochemical Transformations of Sedimentary Sulfur (eds Vairavamurthy, M. A. & Schoonen, M. A. A.) 439–454 (Am. Chem. Soc., Washington DC, 1995).
Worden, R. H., Smalley, P. C. & Oxtoby, N. H. Gas souring by thermochemical sulfate reduction at 140°C. Bull. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 79, 854–863 (1995).
Machel, H. G. Gas souring by thermochemical sulfate reduction at 140°C: Discussion. Bull. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 82, 1870–1873 (1998).
Sassen, R. Geochemical and carbon isotopic studies of crude oil destruction, bitumen precipitation, and sulfate reduction, in the deep Smackover Formation. Org. Geochem. 12, 351–361 (1988).
Claypool, G. E. & Mancini, E. A. Geochemical relationships of petroleum in Mesozoic reservoirs to carbonate source rocks of Jurassic Smackover Formation, southwestern Alabama. Bull. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 73, 904–924 (1989).
Manzano, B. K., Fowler, M. G. & Machel, H. G. The influence of thermochemical sulfate reduction on hydrocarbon composition in Nisku reservoirs, Brazeau River area, Alberta, Canada. Org. Geochem. 27, 507–521 (1997).
Toland, W. G., Hagman, D. L., Wilkes, J. B. & Brutschy, F. J. Oxidation of organic compounds with aqueous base and sulfur. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 80, 5423–5427 (1958).
Toland, W. G. Oxidation of organic compounds with aqueous sulfate. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 82, 1911–1916 (1960).
Goldhaber, M. B. & Orr, W. L. in Geochemical Transformations of Sedimentary Sulfur (eds Vairavamurthy, M. A. & Schoonen, M. A. A.) 412–425 (Am. Chem. Soc., Washington, DC, 1995).
Bell, J. L. S. & Palmer, D. A. in Organic Acids in Geological Processes (eds Pittman, E. D. & Lewan, M. D.) 227–269 (Springer, New York, 1994).
McCollom, T. S. & Seewald, J. S. Experimental constraints on the hydrothermal reactivity of organic acids and acid anions: I. Formic Acid and formate. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 67, 3625–3644 (2003).
McCollom, T. S. & Seewald, J. S. Experimental study of the hydrothermal reactivity of organic acids and acid anions: II. Acetic acid, acetate, and valeric acid. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 67, 3645–3664 (2003).
Eglinton, T. I., Curtis, C. D. & Rowland, S. J. Generation of water-soluble organic acids from kerogen during hydrous pyrolysis: implications for porosity development. Mineral Mag. 51, 495–503 (1987).
Borgund, A. E. & Barth, T. Generation of short-chain organic acids from crude oil by hydrous pyrolysis. Org. Geochem. 21, 943–952 (1994).
Surdam, R. C. & Crossey, L. J. Organic-inorganic reactions during progressive burial: key to porosity and permeability enhancement and preservation. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. 315, 135–156 (1985).
Surdam, R. C., Jiao, Z. S. & MacGowan, D. B. Redox reactions involving hydrocarbons and mineral oxidants: A mechanism for significant porosity enhancement in sandstones. Bull. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 77, 1509–1518 (1993).
Franks, S. G. & Forester, R. W. in Clastic Diagenesis (eds McDonald, D. A. & Surdam, R. C.). 63–80 (Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol., Tulsa, 1984).
Schmidt, V. & MacDonald, D. A. in Aspects of Diagenesis. (eds Scholle, P. A. & Schluger, P. R.) 175–207 (Soc. Econ. Paleontol. Min., Tulsa, 1979).
Surdam, R. C., Crossey, L. J., Hagen, E. S. & Heasler, H. P. Organic-inorganic interactions and sandstone diagenesis. Bull. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 73, 1–23 (1989).
Crossey, L. J., Surdam, R. C. & Lahann, R. in Roles of Organic Matter in Sediment Diagenesis (ed. Gautier, D.) 147–155 (Soc. Econ. Paleont. Min., Tulsa, 1986).
Lundegard, P. D., Land, L. S. & Galloway, W. E. Problem of secondary porosity: Frio Formation (Oligocene), Texas Gulf Coast. Geology 12, 399–402 (1984).
Lundegard, P. D. & Land, L. S. in Roles of Organic Matter in Sediment Diagenesis (ed. Gautier, D. L.) 129–146 (Soc. Econ. Paleont. Min., Tulsa, 1986).
Pittman, E. D. & Hathon, L. A. in Organic Acids in Geological Processes (eds Pittman, E. D. & Lewan, M. D.) 115–137 (Springer, New York, 1994).
Giles, M. R., de Boer, R. B. & Marshall, J. D. in Organic Acids in Geological Processes (eds Pittman, E. D. & Lewan, M. D.) 449–470 (Springer, New York, 1994).
Price, L. C. & DeWitt, E. Evidence and characteristics of hydrolytic disproportionation of organic matter during metasomatic processes. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 65, 3791–3826 (2001).
Hutcheon, I., Shevalier, M. & Abercrombie, H. J. pH buffering by metastable mineral-fluid equilibria and evolution of carbon dioxide fugacity during burial diagenesis. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 57, 1017–1027 (1993).
Barker, C. Calculated volume and pressure changes during the thermal cracking of oil to gas in reservoirs. Bull. Am. Assoc. Petrol. Geol. 74, 1254–1261 (1990).
Ungerer, P. State of the art research in kinetic modeling of oil formation and expulsion. Org. Geochem. 16, 1–25 (1990).
Mango, F. D., Hightower, J. W. & James, A. T. Catalysis in the origin of natural gas. Nature 368, 536–538 (1994).
Mango, F. D. The light hydrocarbons in petroleum: a critical review. Org. Geochem. 26, 417–440 (1997).
McNeil, R. I. & BeMent, W. O. Thermal stability of hydrocarbons: laboratory criteria and field examples. Energy Fuels 10, 60–67 (1996).
Sugisaki, R. & Mimura, K. Mantle hydrocarbons: Abiotic or biotic? Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 58, 2527–2542 (1994).
Price, L. C. & Schoell, M. Constraints on the origins of hydrocarbon gas from compositions of gases at their site of origin. Nature 378, 368–371 (1995).
Mango, F. D. The origin of light hydrocarbons. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta. 64, 1265–1277 (2000).
Laidler, K. J., Sagert, N. H. & Wojciechowske, B. W. Kinetics and mechanisms of the thermal decomposition of propane. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. 270, 242–253 (1962).
Jenden, P. D., Kaplan, I. R., Poreda, R. J. & Craig, H. Origin of nitrogen-rich natural gases in the California Great Valley; evidence from helium, carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 52, 851–861 (1988).
Jenden, P. D., Newell, K. D., Kaplan, I. R. & Watney, W. L. Composition and stable-isotope geochemistry of natural gases from Kansas, midcontinent, U.S.A. Chem. Geol. 71, 117–147 (1988).
Smith, J. T. & Ehrenberg, S. N. Correlation of carbon dioxide abundance with temperature in clastic hydrocarbon reservoirs: relationship to inorganic chemical equilibrium. Mar.Petrol. Geol. 6, 129–135 (1989).
Hutcheon, I. & Abercrombie, H. Carbon dioxide in clastic rocks and silicate hydrolysis. Geology 18, 541–544 (1990).
Cooles, G. P., Mackenzie, A. S. & Quigley, T. M. Calculation of petroleum masses generated and expelled from source rocks. Org. Geochem. 10, 325–345 (1986).
Shock, E. L. Organic Acids in Geological Processes (eds Pittman, E. D. & Lewan, M. D) 270–318 (Springer, New York, 1994).
O'Neil, J. R., Clayton, R. N. & Mayeda, T. K. Oxygen isotope fractionation in divalent metal carbonates. J. Chem. Phys. 51, 5547–5558 (1969).
About this article
Cite this article
Seewald, J. Organic–inorganic interactions in petroleum-producing sedimentary basins. Nature 426, 327–333 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02132
Influence of hydrogen fugacity on thermal transformation of sedimentary organic matter: Implications for hydrocarbon generation in the ultra-depth
Science China Earth Sciences (2022)
Interactions between hydrocarbon-bearing fluids and calcite in fused silica capillary capsules and geological implications for deeply-buried hydrocarbon reservoirs
Science China Earth Sciences (2022)
Successive formation of secondary pores via feldspar dissolution in deeply buried feldspar-rich clastic reservoirs in typical petroliferous basins and its petroleum geological significance
Science China Earth Sciences (2022)
Carbon-initiated sulfate reduction in a closed hydrous system: implications for the formation of H2S in deeply buried petroleum reservoirs
Arabian Journal of Geosciences (2021)
Geochemical origin of methane in hydrothermal fluid and its implication for the subseafloor hydrothermal circulation at the Middle Okinawa Trough
Geo-Marine Letters (2021)