Ancient Microbial Gas in the Upper Cretaceous Milk River Formation, Alberta and Saskatchewan: A Large Continuous Accumulation in Fine-grained Rocks
Published:January 01, 2012
Neil S. Fishman, Jennie L. Ridgley, Debra K. Higley, Michele L. W. Tuttle, Donald L. Hall, 2012. "Ancient Microbial Gas in the Upper Cretaceous Milk River Formation, Alberta and Saskatchewan: A Large Continuous Accumulation in Fine-grained Rocks", Shale Reservoirs—Giant Resources for the 21st Century, J. A. Breyer
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The Upper Cretaceous Milk River Formation in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan has produced more than 2 tcf of dry (>99% methane) microbial gas (δ13CPDB –65 to –71‰) that was internally sourced. Production is from underpressured fine-grained sandstone and siltstone reservoirs, whereas the gas was generated in interbedded organic-bearing mudstones with low organic carbon contents (0.5–1.50%). The formation experienced a shallow burial history (maximum burial, <1.3 km [<0.8 mi]) and cool formation temperatures (<50°C [<122°F]). Petrologic and isotopic studies suggest that methanogenesis began shortly after deposition and continued for at least 20 to 25 m.y.
Mercury injection capillary pressure data from the Milk River Formation and the overlying Upper Cretaceous Pakowki Formation, which contains numerous regionally extensive bentonitic claystones, reveal a strong lithologic control on pore apertures and calculated permeabilities. Pore apertures and calculated permeabilities in Milk River mudstones range from 0.0255 to 0.169 μm and less than 0.002 to 0.414 md, respectively, and claystones from the overlying Pakowki Formation have pore apertures from 0.011 to 0.0338 μm and calculated permeabilities of 0.0017 to 0.0065 md. The small pore apertures and low permeabilities indicate that claystones and mudstones served as seals for microbial Milk River gas, thereby permitting gas to accumulate in economic quantities and be preserved for millions of years.
Based on the timing of gas generation, the gas system of the Milk River Formation can be considered an ancient microbial gas system, which is one of several ways it differs from that of the Devonian Antrim Shale, Michigan Basin, where microbial gas generation is a geologically young (Pleistocene and younger) phenomenon. The difference in timing of gas generation between the Milk River and Antrim systems implies that gases in the two formations represent end members of a spectrum of microbial gas accumulations in fine-grained rocks, with the Milk River Formation being an excellent example on which to base a paradigm for an ancient microbial gas system.
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Shale Reservoirs—Giant Resources for the 21st Century
In the early 1970s, most exploration geologists in the United States considered subeconomic or marginally economic petroleum resources such as coalbed methane, shale gas, and tight-gas sands as unconventional resources (Law and Curtis, 2002). Tax incentives and federally funded research beginning in the late 1970s helped make these resources economically viable in the last two decades of the 20th century. Economics aside, two important geologic attributes characterize most unconventional petroleum resources (Law and Curtis, 2002). Conventional petroleum systems are buoyancy-driven accumulations found in structural or stratigraphic traps, whereas most unconventional systems exist independent of a water column and are generally not found in structural or stratigraphic traps.
Shale reservoirs are not new. The first commercial hydrocarbon production in the United States was from a well drilled in 1821 in a shale gas reservoir. By 2000, more than 28,000 wells had been drilled in shale gas reservoirs. Rising gas prices and technological advancements in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing associated with the development of the Barnett Shale led to a boom in shale gas development in the early years of the 21st century. Now the exploitation of shale reservoirs is turning to natural gas liquids, condensate, and oil. Far from being isotropic and homogeneous, as once naively envisioned, shale reservoirs are complexly layered accumulations of fine-grained sediment. Geologic variation on scales ranging from that of stratal architecture to that of lamination within individual beds must be understood in order to locate and exploid areas of higher production within shale reservoirs. Shale reservoirs remain largely geologic plays - notmerely lease plays or strictly engineering plays made possible by improvements in drilling and completion technology.