Friday, April 29, 2016

Using Hydrogen Index as Maturity Indicator

The common practice in the oil industry is to make source rock maturity maps in terms of vitrinite reflectance (%Ro). However, vitrinite reflectance does not actually tell us to what degree the source rock has converted its generation potential to hydrocarbons. VR is merely a thermal stress (the combined effects of temperature and time) indicator, and a very poor one at that. To know how much of the kerogen has converted to hydrocarbons we not only need to know thermal stress, but also the kinetic behavior of the source rock, which depends on the organo-facies (Pepper and Corvi, 1995).    

This figure shows the fractional conversion (transformation ratio) of kerogen of different organo facies as a function of vitrinite reflectance (thermal stress). We see at 0.8%Ro, each of the standard kerogen facies has experienced very different degree of conversion, 70%, 60%, 40%, 20% and 0% respectively. 

Vitrinite Ro measurements are also not reliable and affected by many things, insufficient readings, suppression due to deposition/diagenetic environments (arguable by pressure as well), subjectivity and experience of the lab personnel, recycled sediments, samples from cavings, etc. In some marine environment, vitrinite macerals are very rare, and in older basins it simply does not exist.

I would like to recommend that we take a good look at one of the most commonly available measurements, hydrogen index (HI), as a maturity indicator. HI decreases from its initial immature value gradually to zero as the kerogen is converted to hydrocarbons. It is a direct measure of how much of the potential of the kerogen has left yet to be converted. Obviously initial values can vary from source rock to source rock, and even within a single source rock facies, but most of that can be filtered out by removing samples with low TOC, and by removing the lower values at each depth/location, as we typically have abundance of samples. This works very well in case of good marine source rocks, (most of the unconventional areas in the US), and especially at higher maturities.

Below is an example of mapping maturity using hydrogen index. This is the Bakken formation in the Williston basin. The color variation based on hydrogen index clearly shows the decrease of HI toward the deeper part of the basin. But the shape of the maturity window do not conform exactly to depth contours as the two more mature areas are also affected by thermal anomalies. 

There are several advantages of using HI as a maturity indicator. Most importantly, it is a direct measure of conversion, so it accounts for the effect of kinetics. Two different source rocks may require different thermal stress to get to the same transformation, but we know exactly how much is left. Most good marine source rocks starts off with an initial HI of about 600 mg/gTOC, so we we see 300, the conversion is about 50%, and when we measure 50, we have over 90% conversion. Secondly, it works well where Ro data is poor or absent - in very rich source rocks, in carbonate source rocks, and old source rocks. It is abundant, inexpensive. The instruments are very accurate and consistent. There is no subjectivity involved.