Source-rock samples from the Upper Triassic Yanchang Formation in the Ordos Basin of China were geochemically characterized to determine variations in depositional environments, organic-matter (OM) source, and thermal maturity. Total organic carbon (TOC) content varies from 4 wt% to 10 wt% in the Chang 7, Chang 8, and Chang 9 members — the three OM-rich shale intervals. The Chang 7 has the highest TOC and hydrogen index values, and it is considered the best source rock in the formation. Geochemical evidence indicates that the main sources of OM in the Yanchang Formation are freshwater lacustrine phytoplanktons, aquatic macrophytes, aquatic organisms, and land plants deposited under a weakly reducing to suboxic depositional environment. The elevated C29 sterane concentration and depleted δC13 values of OM in the middle of the Chang 7 may indicate the presence of freshwater cyanobacteria blooms that corresponds to a period of maximum lake expansion. The OM deposited in deeper parts of the lake is dominated by oil-prone type I or type II kerogen or a mixture of both. The OM deposited in shallower settings is characterized by increased terrestrial input with a mixture of types II and III kerogen. These source rocks are in the oil window, with maturity increasing with burial depth. The measured solid-bitumen reflectance and calculated vitrinite reflectance from the temperature at maximum release of hydrocarbons occurs during Rock-Eval pyrolysis (Tmax) and the methylphenanthrene index (MPI-1) chemical maturity parameters range from 0.8 to 1.05%Ro. Because the thermal labilities of OM are associated with the kerogen type, the required thermal stress for oil generation from types I and II mixed kerogen has a higher and narrower range of temperature for hydrocarbon generation than that of OM dominated by type II kerogen or types II and III mixed kerogen deposited in the prodelta and delta front.

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