Natural Resources Research

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 1521–1546 | Cite as

Geochemical Characteristics of Oil from Oligocene Lower Ganchaigou Formation Oil Sand in Northern Qaidam Basin, China

  • Ye Liang
  • Xuanlong ShanEmail author
  • Yousif M. Makeen
  • Wan Hasiah Abdullah
  • Guoli Hao
  • Lihua Tong
  • Mutari Lawal
  • Rongsheng Zhao
  • Habeeb A. Ayinla
Original Paper


Oil from the Oligocene oil sands of the Lower Ganchaigou Formation in the Northern Qaidam Basin and the related asphaltenes was analyzed using bulk and organic geochemical methods to assess the organic matter source input, thermal maturity, paleo-environmental conditions, kerogen type, hydrocarbon quality, and the correlation between this oil and its potential source rock in the basin. The extracted oil samples are characterized by very high contents of saturated hydrocarbons (average 62.76%), low contents of aromatic hydrocarbons (average 16.11%), and moderate amounts of nitrogen–sulfur–oxygen or resin compounds (average 21.57%), suggesting that the fluid petroleum extracted from the Oligocene oil sands is of high quality. However, a variety of biomarker parameters obtained from the hydrocarbon fractions (saturated and aromatic) indicate that the extracted oil was generated from source rocks with a wide range of thermal maturity conditions, ranging from the early to peak oil window stages, which are generally consistent with the biomarker maturity parameters, vitrinite reflectance (approximately 0.6%), and Tmax values of the Middle Jurassic carbonaceous mudstones and organic-rich mudstone source rocks of the Dameigou Formation, as reported in the literature. These findings suggest that the studied oil is derived from Dameigou Formation source rocks. Furthermore, the source- and environment-related biomarker parameters of the studied oil are characterized by relatively high pristane/phytane ratios, the presence of tricyclic terpanes, low abundances of C27 regular steranes, low C27/C29 regular sterane ratios, and very low sterane/hopane ratios. These data suggest that the oil was generated from source rocks containing plankton/land plant matter that was mainly deposited in a lacustrine environment and preserved under sub-oxic to oxic conditions, and the data also indicate a potential relationship between the studied oil and the associated potential source rocks. The distribution of pristane, phytane, tricyclic terpanes, regular steranes and hopane shows an affinity with the studied Oligocene Lower Ganchaigou Formation oil to previously published Dameigou Formation source rocks. In support of this finding, the pyrolysis–gas chromatography results of the analyzed oil asphaltene indicate that the oil was primarily derived from type II organic matter, which is also consistent with the organic matter of the Middle Jurassic source rocks. Thus, the Middle Jurassic carbonaceous mudstones and organic rock mudstones of the Dameigou Formation could be significantly contributing source rocks to the Oligocene Lower Ganchaigou Formation oil sand and other oil reservoirs in the Northern Qaidam Basin.


Origin and type of organic matter Paleo-environmental conditions Oil–source rock correlation 



This study was supported by Basic geological survey of oil Shale and oil Sands in Songliao, Qaidam and Erlian Basins (Grant No. DD20160188), China Geological Survey and China Scholarship Council (Grant No. 201701760617), and two key laboratories including Key Laboratory for Evolution of Past Life and Environment in Northeast Asia (Jilin University) and the Organic Geochemistry Laboratories of the Department of Geology, University of Malaya, Malaysia.


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© International Association for Mathematical Geosciences 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Earth SciencesJilin UniversityChangchunChina
  2. 2.Department of GeologyUniversity of MalayaKuala LumpurMalaysia
  3. 3.Oil and Gas SurveyChina Geological SurveyBeijingChina
  4. 4.The Key Laboratory of Unconventional Petroleum GeologyCGSBeijingChina
  5. 5.Department of GeologyUsmanu Danfodiyo University SokotoSokotoNigeria
  6. 6.Department of GeologyFederal UniversityLokojaNigeria

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