Extensional relaxation due to the collapse of the active margin of Gondwanaland during the Triassic led to rapidly subsiding, fault-bounded half-grabens in west Argentina. The Cuyo rift basin was the largest of these fault-bounded troughs. Two linked asymmetrical half-grabens have been identified in the Cuyo basin: Cacheuta in the south and Las Peñas-Tamberías in the north. Their stratigraphy exhibits a classic tripartite internal organization with a basal alluvial and fluvial section followed by a lacustrine interval which in turn is overlain by fluvial deposits. The basin fill in both half-grabens shows significant lateral thickness variations that reflect the contrasting subsidence rates on the fault and flexural margins.
The lacustrine shales in the Cacheuta half-graben have an average total organic carbon (TOC) content of 4%, locally reaching 20%, dominated by type I, amorphous, algal organic matter and high hydrogen index (HI) values. The shales are associated with parasequences in river-dominated deltas. Oils derived from these source rocks are waxy and with low sulphur content. The oil shales are associated with sandstones arranged in parasequences deposited in river-dominated Gilbert-type deltas. This interval in the Cacheuta half-graben can be assigned to a slightly overfilled to balanced-fill lake type.
In Las Peñas-Tamberías, the dominant source rock facies in the lacustrine section is made up of calcareous shales with oil-prone, type I(II) kerogen and TOC values up to 13% and high HI values. The presence of gammacerane and b-carotane, common in saline conditions, is conspicuous. The presence of oolitic and bioclastic grainstones and microstromatolitic limestones on the ramp margin and clastic facies on the border fault suggests a slightly underbalanced to balanced lake type.
The Cuyo rift basin branches to the NE into the Ischigualasto-Villa Unión half-graben. Lacustrine shales along the fault margin of this half-graben are dominated by type III, gas-prone organic matter with TOC values up to 4% and low HI values. Parasequences with a strong progradational stacking pattern and steep front slopes are interpreted as mouth bars in a Gilbert-type delta. These characteristics are consistent with an overfilled lake basin type where sedimentation rate exceeds subsidence rate.
The Triassic rift system of west Argentina shows the gamut of lacustrine source rocks that, combined with the analysis of diagnostic associated facies, allow the discrimination of lake basin types and their influence in the resulting hydrocarbon phase.