Multiple natural gas fields have been discovered in the Baiyun depression and the adjoining Panyu lower uplift in the Pearl River Mouth Basin, northern South China Sea. The natural gases are associated with condensate and are characterized by relatively heavy carbon isotopes, with methane and ethane δ13C values ranging from –44.2‰ to –33.6‰ and –30.0‰ to –25.4‰, respectively. Nearly all methane and ethane are derived from oil-prone type II kerogen in the Wenchang Formation source rock, whereas the heavy hydrocarbon gases (propane, butanes, and pentanes) are derived from both the Wenchang and Enping (type III kerogen) Formations, based on an integrated comparison of carbon isotopic compositions of the natural gases, typical type I/II and type III kerogen-derived gases, and the Enping and Wenchang kerogens. The gases from the eastern parts of the Baiyun depression and the Panyu lower uplift mainly originate from secondary oil cracking and primary kerogen cracking, respectively. The gases from the northern slope of the Baiyun depression are a mixture of oil-cracking and kerogen-cracking gases. Both oil-cracking and kerogen-cracking gases were mainly generated from the Wenchang Formation source rock in the maturity range of 1.5%–2.5% vitrinite reflectance, with a corresponding present-day depth range of 5400–6500 m (17,700–21,300 ft). The apparent contribution of the Wenchang Formation to the discovered gas accumulations demonstrates that it is the most important source rock in the area, instead of the Enping Formation. The search for more gas derived from oil cracking will be the next natural gas exploration direction in the Baiyun depression.

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