Petroleum migration pathways through a basin are determined by the three-dimensional distribution of discontinuous sealing surfaces, which are usually parallel to bedding. The petroleum migrates below the sealing surface, taking the structurally most advantageous route. The three-dimensional distribution of migration pathways within the petroleum system can be modeled on a personal computer using a program based on the parameters discussed in this paper. Application of the model to the Paris and Williston basins demonstrates that a good correlation between predicted pathways and discovered accumulations can be made using simple models. Pathways form a dense network overlying generating areas in the central parts of basins. Toward the basin margins these routes commonly become increasingly focused into discrete pathways by the sealing-surface morphologies. Eventually, these pathways may reach the surface as seepages. It is important to integrate surface outcrops of migration routes (surface seepages) into migration modeling. Deflection of the pathways from the structurally most advantageous route below the sealing surface may be caused by lateral sealing barriers due to facies variation in the carrier rock below the seal, fault juxtaposition, or cross-formational seals such as salt intrusions. Deflection of pathways also occurs where there are hydrodynamic conditions in response to topography-driven groundwater flow. Zones of vertical migration are associated with facies changes along the horizon of the sealing surface into a nonsealing facies, or juxtaposition to nonsealing strata by faults. Vertical migration from either normally or abnormally pressured strata is most likely to occur into normally or lesser pressured strata at intrabasinal highs where hydrocarbons can be stored and transferred at times of temporary seal rupture. Reverse modeling of individual pathways from fields and seepages to potential sources is a powerful exploration tool. It assists in predicting the boundaries of the leaking accumulations or areas of petroleum expulsion.

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