Paleocene sandstones in the Kupe Field of Taranaki Basin, New Zealand, are subdivided into two diagenetic zones, an upper kaolinite–siderite (K-S) zone and a lower chlorite–smectite (Ch-Sm) zone. Petrographic observations show that the K-S zone has formed from diagenetic alteration of earlier-formed Ch-Sm sandstones, whereby biotite and chlorite–smectite have been altered to form kaolinite and siderite, and plagioclase has reacted to form kaolinite and quartz. These diagenetic zones can be difficult to discriminate from downhole bulk-rock geochemistry, which is largely due to a change in element-mineral affinities without a wholesale change in element abundance. However, some elements have proven useful for delimiting the diagenetic zones, particularly Ca and Na, where much lower abundances in the K-S zone are interpreted to represent removal of labile elements during diagenesis. Multivariate analysis has also proven an effective method of distinguishing the diagenetic zones by highlighting elemental affinities that are interpreted to represent the principal diagenetic phases. These include Fe-Mg-Mn (siderite) in the K-S zone, and Ca-Mn (calcite) and Fe-Mg-Ti-Y-Sc-V (biotite and chlorite–smectite) in the Ch-Sm zone.
Results from this study demonstrate that the base of the K-S zone approximately corresponds to the base of the current hydrocarbon column. An assessment with 1D basin models and published stable-isotope data show that K-S diagenesis is likely to have occurred during deep-burial diagenesis in the last 4 Myr. Modeling predicts that CO2-rich fluids were generating from thermal decarboxylation of intraformational Paleocene coals at this time, and accumulation of high partial pressures of intraformational CO2 in the hydrocarbon column is considered a viable catalyst for the diagenetic reactions. Variable CO2 concentrations and residence times are interpreted to be the reason for different levels of K-S diagenesis, which is supported by a clear relationship between the presence or absence of a well-developed K-S zone and the present-day reservoir-corrected CO2 content.