Commercial development and application of the Re-Os geochronometer and tracer to petroleum systems

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Earth Sciences


Hydrocarbons and their derivative products are central to today's society. We know that the source of hydrocarbons are products of buried ancient plants and animals. Less clear, and question that petroleum geoscientists both academic and industrial are challenged with, is establishing the time that hydrocarbons, such as oil, form and how they are trapped in petroleum systems large enough to be exploited. To address this question of the origin and time of formation of hydrocarbons, the naturally occurring isotopic clock of 187Rhenium-187Osmium present in oil is utilized. This ability to directly date oil and not rely on multi-component models are important because petroleum explorers, need to know the origin of hydrocarbons in a sedimentary basin to constrain where they might be able to accumulate, or whether they are able to accumulate at all. With oil exploration drillholes costing multiple millions of dollars, every piece of data informing site location is of immense worth.
Whilst the potential utility of the Rhenium-Osmium system to petroleum systems is now proven, its wide scale application and routine development by industry during exploration is still very much in its infancy. Thus, engagement with industry is needed to develop a portfolio of asset-based case studies needed to improve the understanding of Rhenium-Osmium systematics and assess the general applicability of the method to hydrocarbon-bearing basins worldwide.

Work related to Objective (a) (see Objectives section above) will be to create a multi-company (BP, Total, Statoil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Shell, Chemostrat) Re-Os Advisory Board (ROAB) with two main purposes (as noted above).

Work related to Objective (b) will involve ROAB members to become a strategic partner based on established relationships with companies already engaging in the use of Re-Os; and companies with shared interest in the application of Re-Os system above and beyond its current use. All of the founding ROAB members have global expertise in petroleum exploration and thus compliment, support and develop the PI and Co-I research capabilities establishing a strong-integrated research team, e.g., traditional industrial applied techniques (basin modeling, organic geochemistry) with novel Re-Os geochemistry and fracture network models.

Work related to objective (c) includes a 2 workshop hosted by the PIs at Durham which will include a summary of the current knowledge base and will be followed by a think tank session on how the Rhenium-Osmium system can be better understood and developed for the end-user. An Impact Case Study will be developed with the help of a science writer in the Durham University Media Office.


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Liu J (2018) A Matrix-Matched Reference Material for Validating Petroleum Re-Os Measurements in Geostandards and Geoanalytical Research

Description the use of a petroleum standard to show reproducibility for rhenium and osmium geochemistry
Exploitation Route to aid laboratory development. to demonstrate analytical protocol and provide the earth science community confidence when report unknown data.
Sectors Education