ABSTRACT

A continuous oil accumulation is one that is pervasive throughout a large area and is not affected by natural hydrodynamic influences. Three source rocks in the San Joaquin Valley of California are actively producing hydrocarbons and represent potential continuous oil accumulations: the Monterey, Kreyenhagen, and Moreno Formations. The Energy Information Administration announced in 2014 that there are potentially 15 billion bbl of recoverable oil in the Monterey Formation in California, spiking huge interest. Such a resource would make the Monterey by far the largest continuous oil accumulation in North America. This number has since been reduced dramatically to 600 million bbl of oil for the state and 21 million bbl of oil within the San Joaquin Valley. In this study, the subsurface character of the Bakken Formation of North Dakota is compared with the three source rocks in the San Joaquin Valley at oil window depths. To characterize these reservoirs, hundreds of well logs, core descriptions, and mud logs were studied. A technique to rank character of oil show data was developed in which interesting, possibly interesting, or not interesting wells were located on thermal maturity maps. Interesting wells have significant oil shows, whereas not interesting wells have minor or no shows. In the Bakken Formation, the character of the oil show correlates with well productivity. Applying this same classification to the San Joaquin Valley source rocks leads to a more disappointing conclusion. Although there are oil shows in the source rocks of the San Joaquin Valley at oil window depths suggesting the presence of a continuous oil accumulation, the distribution of shows is both laterally and vertically heterogeneous and not predictable. Moreover, recent attempts to produce from source rocks at these depths have not been economically successful. We conclude that the three source rocks in the San Joaquin Valley represent heterogeneous and discontinuous oil accumulations at oil window depths in the subsurface. Likely there are billions of barrels of oil in these discontinuous oil accumulations. Source rocks in the Bakken are rated as world class; source rocks in the San Joaquin Valley are good to excellent quality. However, the quality of the oil shows in the San Joaquin Valley appears poorer than the Bakken Formation. It is possible that effective drainage between the source rocks and the up-dip reservoirs has left large volumes of the source rocks at oil window depths with only residual oil saturation. Complex structural and stratigraphic architecture, heterogeneity, and continuity create issues of predictability for optimal areas to target. Rapid rates of subsidence over the past few million years and accompanying thrusting and folding resulted in a complex subsurface pressure regime. The lack of clear hydraulic fracture targets, analogous to the middle Bakken, further complicates drilling decisions and likely deliverability. In addition, the oil windows in the San Joaquin Valley are significantly deeper than the Bakken Formation, which would result in substantially higher well cost. Recent drilling results support this study and suggest that heterogeneous and discontinuous oil accumulations in the San Joaquin are unlikely to become economic without dramatic changes in technology.

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