Subsurface hydrocarbon observations at any scale serve as critical clues to understand and reconstruct migration pathways and charge histories through geological time to assess the risk of petroleum exploration targets. Hydrocarbon migration commonly occurred millions of years ago, and the pathways can rarely be observed in wells or in outcrops. Therefore, hydrocarbon migration modeling tools are important to test and quantify the processes and elements, which impact hydrocarbon migration. This paper presents a new method of analyzing migration in superimposed basins, which have experienced multiple stages of basin subsidence and inversion, during which multiple episodes of hydrocarbon generation, migration, and accumulation occurred.

The new modeling method first identifies the character of the migration and accumulation units by synthesizing geological factors, such as heterogeneity of carrier beds and reservoirs. Second, hydrocarbon migration is analyzed as a geologic process, for which the invasion-percolation (IP) migration method seems to be most suitable. The IP migration method demonstrates a good relationship between migration driving and resisting forces along pathways and thus can be used to reasonably model hydrocarbon migration processes at any scale of units in a basin.

The new migration method provides insights into quantitative methods that can be applied to petroleum system analysis. The new method has been applied to several Chinese basins and has proven to be useful for defining exploration targets and resource assessments in mature, frontier, and, especially, tectonically complex basins. A case study of the Upper Triassic Chang 7 and Chang 8 units in the southern Ordos Basin, central China, is presented to demonstrate a multistage hydrocarbon accumulation unit. Modeling results show that the same pairs of reservoir-seal sets contained different accumulation units in the geological past with different styles of hydrocarbon migration and different accumulation patterns. It can be concluded that the style and character of early hydrocarbon migration have significantly affected the more recent hydrocarbon migration and the present-day distribution of hydrocarbons.

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