We are investigating how organic matter deposited at the Earth's surface becomes transformed into oil and gas once it is buried deep underground. This research will help improve our understanding of what the molecular composition of oil and how that composition changes over time. This has the potential to improve the efficiency of finding oil reserves while minimizing impacts to the environment from its extraction.
Unfortunately, the oil generated in conventional producing basins is buried too deep and the time it takes for oil and gas to form at these depths is too long for us to easily monitor. We have therefore focused on studying the oil forming processes occurring in shallow sediments that are being hydrothermally altered at mid-ocean spreading centers. These environments generate oil and gas extremely quickly and at very shallow sediment depths from exposure to the venting high temperature fluids at the ocean bottom.
MSc students Connor Dalzel and Jeremy Bentley are investigating surface sediments collected from the sea floor of Guaymas Basin in the Gulf of California in a hydrothermal vent site called Cathedral Hill. The high temperature vent fluids are actively pyrolyizing the sedimentary matter to form petroleum.