Rhenium-osmium (Re-Os) geochronometry is applied to crude oils derived from the Permian Phosphoria Formation of the Bighorn Basin in Wyoming and Montana to determine whether the radiogenic age reflects the timing of petroleum generation, timing of migration, age of the source rock, or the timing of thermochemical sulfate reduction (TSR). The oils selected for this study are interpreted to be derived from the Meade Peak Phosphatic Shale and Retort Phosphatic Shale Members of the Phosphoria Formation based on oil-oil and oil-source rock correlations utilizing bulk properties, elemental composition, δ13C and δ34S values, and biomarker distributions. The δ34S values of the oils range from -6.2‰ to +5.7‰, with oils heavier than -2‰ interpreted to be indicative of TSR. The Re and Os isotope data of the Phosphoria oils plot in two general trends: (1) the main trend (n = 15 oils) yielding a Triassic age (239 ± 43 Ma) with an initial 187Os/188Os value of 0.85 ± 0.42 and a mean square weighted deviation (MSWD) of 1596, and (2) the Torchlight trend (n = 4 oils) yielding a Miocene age (9.24 ± 0.39 Ma) with an initial 187Os/188Os value of 1.88 ± 0.01 and a MSWD of 0.05. The scatter (high MSWD) in the main-trend regression is due, in part, to TSR in reservoirs along the eastern margin of the basin. Excluding oils that have experienced TSR, the regression is significantly improved, yielding an age of 211 ± 21 Ma with a MSWD of 148. This revised age is consistent with some studies that have proposed Late Triassic as the beginning of Phosphoria oil generation and migration, and does not seem to reflect the source rock age (Permian) or the timing of re-migration (Late Cretaceous to Eocene) associated with the Laramide orogeny. The low precision of the revised regression (±21 Ma) is not unexpected for this oil family given the long duration of generation from a large geographic area of mature Phosphoria source rock, and the possible range in the initial 187Os/188Os values of the Meade Peak and Retort source units. Effects of re-migration may have contributed to the scatter, but thermal cracking and biodegradation likely have had minimal or no effect on the main-trend regression. The four Phosphoria-sourced oils from Torchlight and Lamb fields yield a precise Miocene age Re-Os isochron that may reflect the end of TSR in the reservoir due to cooling below a threshold temperature in the last 10 m.y. from uplift and erosion of overlying rocks.
The mechanism for the formation of a Re-Os isotopic relationship in a family of crude oils may involve multiple steps in the petroleum generation process. Bitumen generation from the source rock kerogen may provide a reset of the isotopic chronometer, and incremental expulsion of oil over the duration of the oil window may provide some of the variation seen in 187Re/188Os values from an oil family.
Additional publication details
Evaluation of the rhenium-osmium geochronometer in the Phosphoria petroleum system, Bighorn Basin of Wyoming and Montana, USA