Carriers are important links between sources and traps for hydrocarbon migration and accumulation in a petroleum system. Oil and gas commonly migrate along narrow and irregular pathways in porous media, even in macroscopically homogeneous media. A migration simulator based on the invasion-percolation theory, which couples the buoyancy of a hydrocarbon column as the driving force with capillary pressure as the resisting force, satisfactorily explains migration processes in heterogeneous media. In macroscopically homogeneous carriers, migration pathways are generally perpendicular to equipotential lines, but locally, the pathways can be irregular because of the influence of microscopic heterogeneity. The degree of irregularity of these pathways depends on the difference between competing driving and resisting forces. When numerous pathways form in a migration-accumulation system, the flux of migrating hydrocarbons may vary among these pathways. In macroscopically heterogeneous carriers, the irregularity of migration pathways is exacerbated. When the driving force is relatively weak, hydrocarbons tend to migrate in carriers where the hydraulic conductivity is relatively large. These pathways differ from those predicted only on the basis of flow potential. Simulation of the migration process in the Middle Jurassic carrier beds of the Paris Basin demonstrates the characteristics of the migration simulator in the analysis of migration pathway heterogeneity. Results are comparable to or superior to those achieved with previous simulation approaches.

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