Abnormally High Formation Pressures, Potwar Plateau, Pakistan
Abnormally high formation pressures in the Potwar Plateau of north-central Pakistan are major obstacles to oil and gas exploration. Severe drilling problems associated with high pressures have, in some cases, prevented adequate evaluation of reservoirs and significantly increased drilling costs. Previous investigations of abnormal pressure in the Potwar Plateau have only identified abnormal pressures in Neogene rocks. We have identified two distinct pressure regimes in this Himalayan foreland fold and thrust belt basin: one in Neogene rocks and another in pre-Neogene rocks. Pore pressures in Neogene rocks are as high as lithostatic and are interpreted to be due to tectonic compression and compaction disequilibrium associated with high rates of sedimentation. Pore pressure gradients in pre-Neogene rocks are generally less than those in Neogene rocks, commonly ranging from 0.5 to 0.7 psi/ft (11.3 to 15.8 kPa/m) and are most likely due to a combination of tectonic compression and hydrocarbon generation. The top of abnormally high pressure is highly variable and doesn’t appear to be related to any specific lithologic seal. Consequently, attempts to predict the depth to the top of overpressure prior to drilling are precluded.
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Abnormal pressures, pressures above or below hydrostatic pressures, occur on all continents in a wide range of geological conditions. According to a survey of published literature on abnormal pressures, compaction disequilibrium and hydrocarbon generation are the two most commonly cited causes of abnormally high pressure in petroleum provinces. In young (Tertiary) deltaic sequences, compaction disequilibrium is the dominant cause of abnormal pressure. In older (pre-Tertiary) lithified rocks, hydrocarbon generation, aquathermal expansion, and tectonics are most often cited as the causes of abnormal pressure.
The association of abnormal pressures with hydrocarbon accumulations is statistically significant. Within abnormally pressured reservoirs, empirical evidence indicates that the bulk of economically recoverable oil and gas occurs in reservoirs with pressure gradients less than 0.75 psi/ft (17.4 kPa/m) and there is very little production potential from reservoirs that exceed 0.85 psi/ft (19.6 kPa/m). Abnormally pressured rocks are also commonly associated with unconventional gas accumulations where the pressuring phase is gas of either a thermal or microbial origin. In underpressured, thermally mature rocks, the affected reservoirs have most often experienced a significant cooling history and probably evolved from an originally overpressured system.