Forty-six core samples were collected from a deep well that penetrated organic-rich layers of the Chang 7, 8, and 9 members of the Yanchang Formation (Fm) in the Ordos Basin. Tests for total organic content (TOC), Rock-Eval pyrolysis, X-ray diffraction (XRD) mineralogy, and molecular composition of gases released from rock crushing were conducted. Analytical results indicate that TOC and clay contents are elevated. The organic matter (OM)-rich mudstone in the Triassic Yanchang Fm suggests good-to-excellent source potential for oil generation. Its thermal maturity is in the oil window. Strong petroleum expulsion occurred from the upper part of the approximately 13 m (42.6 ft) thick Chang 7 member, and for the Chang 8 and Chang 9 members, resulting in low free oil and low methane (CH4) concentration in these OM-rich intervals. A combination of sandstone and thin organic-rich mudstone layers is a perfect hybrid lithology stacking pattern for petroleum expulsion. The thickness for effective source rock, approximately 10–12 m (32.8–39.3 ft), varied with sandstone/mudstone lithology stacking pattern. In contrast, limited or no oil expulsion occurred in the lower part of Chang 7 member, a 25 m (82 ft) thick organic-rich interval, which is indicated by high free oil and high CH4 concentration. A CH4-TOC plot can be used to differentiate generated gas, retained gas in OM-rich mudstones, and migrated gas in permeable sandstone beds. We have developed a conceptual model for petroleum expulsion from OM-rich thin versus OM-rich thick layers. Compaction and thermal volume expansion of oil generated from OM may play an important role in petroleum expulsion in OM-rich mudstones. The estimated petroleum expulsion efficiency is approximately 70% and 35% for thin and thick OM-rich mudstone layers, respectively. The redistributed OM in clay-dominated rock assemblage likely forms the preferred migration path to petroleum expulsion.

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