The Tertiary Green River petroleum system in the Uinta basin generated about 500 million bbl of recoverable, high pour-point, paraffinic crude oil from lacustrine source rocks. A prolific complex of marginal and open-lacustrine source rocks, dominated by carbonate oil shales containing up to 60 wt. % type I kerogen, occur within distinct stratigraphic units in the basin. Petroleum generation is interpreted to originate from source pods in the basal Green River Formation buried to depths greater than 3000 m along the steeply dipping northern margin of the basin. Producing fields in the Altamont-Bluebell trend have elevated pore-fluid pressures approaching 80% of lithostatic pressure and are completed in strata where open fractures provide permeability. Active hydrocarbon generation is one explanation for the origin of the overpressured reservoirs.
In this study, experiments were undertaken to examine the mechanisms of hydrocarbon generation and accumulation in the Uinta basin. We combined analyses of representative source rocks from the entire Green River stratigraphic section with detailed laboratory simulation experiments using both open- and closed-system pyrolysis. This information provides new insights on lacustrine source rock lithofacies, gas-oil-source rock correlations, hydrocarbon generation kinetics, and basin modeling. The results show that the basal Green River Formation contains a unique type I source facies responsible for generation of paraffinic crude oils. The classic type I oil shales in the upper Green River Formation correlate well with low-maturity aromatic-asphaltic samples. We determined kinetic parameters for the source rocks and used them to develop basin models for hydrocarbon generation. The models show that hydrous pyrolysis kinetic parameters are more consistent with the natural data in terms of predicted timing and extent of oil generation as compared to models using Rock-Eval kinetics.