This report presents an interpretation of the hydrocarbon source rock potential of the Triassic sedimentary rocks of the Deep River and Dan River basins, North Carolina, based on previously unpublished organic geochemistry data. The organic geochemical data, 87 samples from 28 drill holes, are from the Sanford sub-basin (Cumnock Formation) of the Deep River basin, and from the Dan River basin (Cow Branch Formation). The available organic geochemical data are biased, however, because many of the samples collected for analyses by industry were from drill holes that contained intrusive diabase dikes, sills, and sheets of early Mesozoic age. These intrusive rocks heated and metamorphosed the surrounding sediments and organic matter in the black shale and coal bed source rocks and, thus, masked the source rock potential that they would have had in an unaltered state. In places, heat from the intrusives generated over-mature vitrinite reflectance (%Ro) profiles and metamorphosed the coals to semi-anthracite, anthracite, and coke. The maximum burial depth of these coal beds is unknown, and depth of burial may also have contributed to elevated thermal maturation profiles.
The organic geochemistry data show that potential source rocks exist in the Sanford sub-basin and Dan River basin and that the sediments are gas prone rather than oil prone, although both types of hydrocarbons were generated. Total organic carbon (TOC) data for 56 of the samples are greater than the conservative 1.4% TOC threshold necessary for hydrocarbon expulsion. Both the Cow Branch Formation (Dan River basin) and the Cumnock Formation (Deep River basin, Sanford sub-basin) contain potential source rocks for oil, but they are more likely to have yielded natural gas. The organic material in these formations was derived primarily from terrestrial Type III woody (coaly) material and secondarily from lacustrine Type I (algal) material. Both the thermal alteration index (TAI) and vitrinite reflectance data (%Ro) indicate levels of thermal maturity suitable for generation of hydrocarbons.
The genetic potential of the source rocks in these Triassic basins is moderate to high and many source rock sections have at least some potential for hydrocarbon generation. Some data for the Cumnock Formation indicate a considerably higher source rock potential than the basin average, with S1 + S2 data in the mid-20 mg HC/g sample range, and some hydrocarbons have been generated. This implies that the genetic potential for all of these strata may have been higher prior to the igneous activity. However, the intergranular porosity and permeability of the Triassic strata are low, which makes fractured reservoirs more attractive as drilling targets.
In some places, gravity and magnetic surveys that are used to locate buried intrusive rock may identify local thermal sources that have facilitated gas generation. Alternatively, awareness of the distribution of large intrusive igneous bodies at depth may direct exploration into other areas, where thermal maturation is less than the limits of hydrocarbon destruction. Areas prospective for natural gas also contain large surficial clay resources and any gas discovered could be used as fuel for local industries that produce clay products (principally brick), as well as fuel for other local industries.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Hydrocarbon Source Rocks in the Deep River and Dan River Triassic Basins, North Carolina