Recent discoveries of oil in deeply buried paleoregolith profiles on the Utsira High, Norwegian North Sea, was the first time basement rocks had been demonstrated to be petroleum reservoirs on the Norwegian continental shelf. The present study aimed to establish the processes responsible for the primary weathering sequence, distinguish them from other phases of alteration, and create a model for the development of reservoir properties in crystalline basement rocks.
Hand-specimen and laboratory tests revealed a link between reservoir properties in weathered granitic rocks and alteration facies. Samples were obtained from two distinct paleoregolith profiles on the Utsira High. The core samples were studied in detail by optical microscopy, X-ray powder diffraction, scanning electron microscopy, and X-ray fluorescence. In the altered coherent rock facies, porosity and permeability were mainly created by joints and fractures prior to subaerial exposure. In the altered compact rock and altered incoherent rock facies, the development of reservoir properties was increasingly affected by physicochemical interactions between the rock and percolating fluids during subaerial exposure and early diagenesis. In well 16/3-4, the altered coherent rock facies contained R0 illite-smectite (I-S), well ordered kaolinite, and a mixture of fine-grained mica and illite, produced in semi-open and closed microsystems. In the altered compact rock and altered incoherent rock facies, disordered kaolinite became more abundant at the expense of R0 I-S, well ordered kaolinite, plagioclase, and biotite, suggesting alteration in semi-open microsystems. The collapse of the rock structure and clogging of mesofractures by clays contributed to reduced permeability in the clay-rich upper part of the altered incoherent rock. In contrast, well 16/1-15 represented a more deeply truncated weathering profile compared to 16/3-4, characterized by open and interconnected mesofractures and moderate formation of clay. R0 I-S was present and kaolinite was rare throughout the profile, suggesting stagnant conditions. During burial, a porosity-reducing serpentine-chlorite Ib β = 90° polytype formed in the overlying sandstone and the regolith. Application of these results should improve the success of exploration and production efforts related to hydrocarbon reservoirs in the altered crystalline basement.