About 7??Mt of high volatile bituminous coal are produced annually from the four coal zones of the Upper Paleocene Marcelina Formation at the Paso Diablo open-pit mine of western Venezuela. As part of an ongoing coal quality study, we have characterized twenty-two coal channel samples from the mine using organic petrology techniques. Samples also were analyzed for proximate-ultimate parameters, forms of sulfur, free swelling index, ash fusion temperatures, and calorific value. Six of the samples represent incremental benches across the 12-13??m thick No. 4 bed, the stratigraphically lowest mined coal, which is also mined at the 10??km distant Mina Norte open-pit. Organic content of the No. 4 bed indicates an upward increase of woody vegetation and/or greater preservation of organic material throughout the life of the original mire(s). An upward increase in telovitrinite and corresponding decrease in detrovitrinite and inertinite illustrate this trend. In contrast, stratigraphically higher coal groups generally exhibit a 'dulling upward' trend. The generally high inertinite content, and low ash yield and sulfur content, suggest that the Paso Diablo coals were deposited in rain-fed raised mires, protected from clastic input and subjected to frequent oxidation and/or moisture stress. However, the two thinnest coal beds (both 0.7??m thick) are each characterized by lower inertinite and higher telovitrinite content relative to the rest of Paso Diablo coal beds, indicative of less well-established raised mire environments prior to drowning. Foreland basin Paleocene coals of western Venezuela, including the Paso Diablo deposit and time-correlative coal deposits of the Ta??chira and Me??rida Andes, are characterized by high inertinite and consistently lower ash and sulfur relative to Eocene and younger coals of the area. We interpret these age-delimited coal quality characteristics to be due to water availability as a function of the tectonic control of subsidence rate. It is postulated that slower subsidence rates dominated during the Paleocene while greater foreland basin subsidence rates during the Eocene-Miocene resulted from the loading of nappe thrust sheets as part of the main construction phases of the Andean orogen. South-southeastward advance and emplacement of the Lara nappes during the oblique transpressive collision of the Caribbean and South American tectonic plates in the Paleocene was further removed from the sites of peat deposition, resulting in slower subsidence rates. Slower subsidence in the Paleocene may have favored the growth of raised mires, generating higher inertinite concentrations through more frequent moisture stress. Consistently low ash yield and sulfur content would be due to the protection from clastic input in raised mires, in addition to the leaching of mineral matter by rainfall and the development of acidic conditions preventing fixation of sulfur. In contrast, peat mires of Eocene-Miocene age encountered rapid subsidence due to the proximity of nappe emplacement, resulting in lower inertinite content, higher and more variable sulfur content, and higher ash yield.
Additional publication details
Organic petrology of Paleocene Marcelina Formation coals, Paso Diablo mine, western Venezuela: Tectonic controls on coal type