This article, written by JPT Technology Editor Chris Carpenter, contains highlights of paper SPE 209992, “Gas Chemical and Carbon Isotope Composition as a Diagnostic Tool for Energy,” by Zainab Almubarak, SPE, Mohammad Alrowaie, and Feng Lu, Saudi Aramco, et al. The paper has not been peer reviewed.


Chemical and carbon isotopic compositions of produced gases are useful tools to monitor gas production and to assess their origin, thermal maturity, and migration. In the complete paper, the authors present different geochemical approaches to assess the origin of gases and thermal maturity and to evaluate the effect of adsorption on shale gas during production.


Carbon isotope type curves constructed for compounds from methane through n-pentane can be used to group gases into distinct families and correlate them to their source rocks. Large variations in carbon isotope ratios exist among the natural gas compounds, which are caused by isotopic fractionation between the sedimentary organic matter (kerogen) and each individual hydrocarbon compound. During the generation of hydrocarbons from kerogen, cracking of 12C-12C bonds requires slightly less energy than 13C-12C bonds. Thus, hydrocarbons will be enriched in 12C relative to the kerogen. Methane, which contains only one carbon atom, shows the greatest fractionation and will have the most negative δ13C value (most enriched in 12C). Ethane through pentane show progressively less fractionation (less negative δ13C values), with the latter usually having a δ13C value close to that of kerogen (and associated oil). The magnitude of the fractionation effect will vary depending on the type of kerogen (i.e., Type I, II, IIS, or III), the temperature during hydrocarbon generation, and the adsorption/desorption effect. Thus, gases generated from different source rocks often have distinctive carbon isotope type curves. In shale gas (unconventional reservoirs), two different types of gases coexist—free gas and adsorbed gas. Free gas occurs in natural fractures and matrix pores, whereas adsorbed gas is noted on the surface of pores. During the early stages of production, free gas accounts for most produced gas. The adsorbed gas starts in mid-late stages but maintains high and stable production.

In this study, the authors use carbon isotopic compositions of light hydrocarbons (C1–C5) to assess origin and thermal maturity and to compare different gases derived from unconventional reservoirs. Moreover, carbon isotopes are used to assess migration paths and to monitor gas production in unconventional shale gas reservoirs. The gas samples were collected periodically from the same interval to monitor any isotope variation and evaluate the effect of gas adsorption.


Pressurized samples of natural gas were collected from conventional and unconventional reservoirs through production tests, drillstem tests, or downhole samplers and analyzed for chemical composition. For the conventional study, a total of 13 gas samples were collected from different reservoirs (A, B, C, D, and J): four gas samples from Reservoir A, two gas samples from Reservoir B, three gas samples from Reservoir C, three gas samples from Reservoir D, and one gas sample from Reservoir J. Gases derived from Reservoirs A, B, and J are younger and shallower than gases derived from Reservoirs C and D (older and deeper). For the unconventional study, seven gas samples were collected periodically from the same shale interval (Reservoir W) from the same well (Well Y) on different dates to monitor any isotope variation.

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