Origin and Migration of Oil

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Science  03 Apr 1959:
Vol. 129, Issue 3353, pp. 871-874
DOI: 10.1126/science.129.3353.871


A relationship exists between the composition of crude oil and the solubility of the component hydrocarbons in dilute colloidal electrolyte solutions, suggesting that crude oil consists of hydrocarbons that were once solubilized in formation waters. It is not solubility in ordinary water or solubility in complete soap solution that correlates with the composition of oil but, rather, solubility in soap micelles. Because it implies a possible unloading mechanism, this concept is attractive, for it follows that when a soap solution is diluted with water, the soap micelles disperse and the hydrocarbons solubilized therein appear as discrete, filterable oil droplets.

Thus, it would seem that crude oil originates during the compaction of a sedimentary basin by virtue of the fact that sediment hydrocarbons dissolve in waters containing natural solubilizers and then come out of solution as oil droplets. The composition of crude oil as now understood is consistent with this hypothesis. And—most important—it is now possible to formulate meaningful questions, the answers to which, upon investigation in both field and laboratory, will go far toward enabling us to assess the validity of the mechanism presented here.

In addition to the implications regarding the composition of crude oil that are inherent in the hypothesis that crude oil collects from aqueous colloidal electrolyte solutions, there are several interesting implications from the geological viewpoint. To mention one, such a mechanism would lend credence to the suggestion that the source beds of petroleum are not necessarily unique accumulations of hydrocarbons in a limited area but, rather, may generally be coincident with the area from which water is expressed into the porous strata that eventually form the reservoirs.