The Upper Cretaceous Mesaverde Group in the Piceance Basin, Colorado, is considered a continuous basin-centered gas accumulation in which gas charge of the low-permeability sandstone occurs under high pore-fluid pressure in response to gas generation. High gas pressure favors formation of pervasive systems of opening-mode fractures. This view contrasts with that of other models of low-permeability gas reservoirs in which gas migrates by buoyant drive and accumulates in conventional traps, with fractures an incidental attribute of these reservoirs. We tested the aspects of the basin-centered gas accumulation model as it applies to the Piceance Basin by determining the timing of fracture growth and associated temperature, pressure, and fluid-composition conditions using microthermometry and Raman microspectrometry of fluid inclusions trapped in fracture cement that formed during fracture growth. Trapping temperatures of methane-saturated aqueous fluid inclusions record systematic temperature trends that increase from approximately 140 to 185°C and then decrease to approximately 158°C over time, which indicates fracture growth during maximum burial conditions. Calculated pore-fluid pressures for methane-rich aqueous inclusions of 55 to 110 MPa (7977–15,954 psi) indicate fracture growth under near-lithostatic pressure conditions consistent with fracture growth during active gas maturation and charge. Lack of systematic pore-fluid–pressure trends over time suggests dynamic pressure conditions requiring an active process of pressure generation during maximum burial conditions. Such a process is consistent with gas generation within the Mesaverde Group or by gas charge from deeper source rocks along fracture and fault systems but is inconsistent with significant high-pressure generation by compaction disequilibrium during earlier stages of burial. On the basis of a comparison of trapping temperatures with burial and thermal maturity models, we infer that active gas charge and natural fracture growth lasted for 35 m.y. and ended at approximately 6 Ma. Our results demonstrate that protracted growth of a pervasive fracture system is the consequence of gas maturation and reservoir charge and is intrinsic to basin-centered gas reservoirs.

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