Methane pore accessibility, densification, and accommodation by organic matter in the Niobrara Formation at wet-gas thermal maturity conditions

International Journal of Coal Geology
By: , and 



Petroleum within unconventional source-rock reservoirs is hosted in organic matter and mineral pore space as well as in voids and microfractures. Recent work has shown that for source-rock reservoirs in the dry gas window, significant portions of methane (CH4), the main component of petroleum at elevated maturities, can be stored within fine (<5 nm) organic matter porosity. However, within reservoirs at lower thermal maturities (e.g., peak oil or wet-gas conditions), the distribution and behavior of CH4 and the higher alkanes that comprise gas condensates across pore sizes is unclear, especially for pores with diameters <50 nm. Understanding CH4 distribution within these settings provides insight for petroleum generation, movement, and recoverability, ultimately enabling increased accuracy of estimated ultimate recovery. Here wide Q-range total neutron scattering was used to evaluate perdeuterated methane (CD4) behavior at reservoir pressures (200–750 bar) and temperature (60 °C) in a sample at the late oil/wet gas thermal maturity stage from the Late Cretaceous Niobrara Formation, an active petroleum producing formation within the Denver-Julesburg Basin, U.S.

Neutron scattering data show that mesopores within the Niobrara Formation sample exhibit mass fractal scattering, similar to previously measured U.S. marine shale samples. In the presence of CD4, scattering intensities between Q = 0.02–0.1 Å−1 (corresponding to nominal pore diameters from 25 to 5 nm, respectively) decrease with increased pressure up to 750 bar where at least 80% of all pores with ~25 nm diameters are CD4 accessible. In contrast, between Q = 0.1–1 Å−1 (corresponding to nominal pore diameters from 5 to 0.5 nm, respectively), scattering intensity initially increased at the lowest CD4 pressure tested (200 bar) before decreasing with increasing pressure. These signal fluctuations with CD4 pressure are interpreted to arise from the creation of pores with diameters <5 nm, likely through deformation of solid bitumen by supercritical CD4, and/or the incorporation of CD4 within sample organic matter. This new porosity represents an increase of at least ~8% in available pore volume within the sample, although the majority of these pores do not persist following removal of CD4. Additionally, there is strong evidence for densification of CD4 within the sample indicated by a shift in the CD4 intermolecular scattering peak to higher Q-values compared to bulk CD4. These results provide insight into fluid properties within source-rock reservoirs at late oil/wet gas thermal maturities, especially as they relate to organic porosity interconnectivity, and are discussed with perspective toward pressure management of gas condensate wells.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Methane pore accessibility, densification, and accommodation by organic matter in the Niobrara Formation at wet-gas thermal maturity conditions
Series title International Journal of Coal Geology
DOI 10.1016/j.coal.2023.104349
Volume 277
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Central Energy Resources Science Center, Geology, Energy & Minerals Science Center
Description 104349, 10 p.
Country United States
State Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming
Other Geospatial Denver-Julesburg Basin, Niobrara Formation
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