Depositional environment and source rock potential of Cenomanian and Turonian sedimentary rocks of the Tarfaya Basin, Southwest Morocco


  • B.I. GHASSAL Energy and Mineral Resources Group (EMR), Institute of Geology and Geochemistry of Petroleum and Coal. Lochnerstr. 4-20, RWTH Aachen University, 52056 Aachen, Germany.
  • R. LITTKE Energy and Mineral Resources Group (EMR), Institute of Geology and Geochemistry of Petroleum and Coal. Lochnerstr. 4-20, RWTH Aachen University, 52056 Aachen, Germany.
  • V. SACHSE Energy and Mineral Resources Group (EMR), Institute of Geology and Geochemistry of Petroleum and Coal. Lochnerstr. 4-20, RWTH Aachen University, 52056 Aachen, Germany.
  • S. SINDERN Energy and Mineral Resources Group (EMR), Institute of Mineralogy and economic Geology. Wüllnerstrasse 2, RWTH Aachen University, 52062 Aachen, Germany
  • J. SCHWARZBAUER Energy and Mineral Resources Group (EMR), Institute of Geology and Geochemistry of Petroleum and Coal. Lochnerstr. 4-20, RWTH Aachen University, 52056 Aachen, Germany.



OAE, oil shale, petroleum source rock, biomarker, organic sulfur, unstructured organic matter


Detailed organic and inorganic geochemical analyses were used to assess the depositional environment and source rock potential of the Upper Albian to Turonian oil shale deposits in the Tarfaya Basin. This study is based on core samples from the Tarfaya Sondage-4 well that penetrated over 300m of Mid Cretaceous organic matter-rich deposits. A total of 242 samples were analyzed for total organic and inorganic carbon and selected samples for total sulfur and major elements as well as for organic petrology, Rock-Eval pyrolysis, Curie-Point-pyrolysis-gas-chromatography-Mass-Spectrometry and molecular geochemistry of solvent extracts. Based on major elements the Albian and Lower Cenomanian differ from the other intervals by higher silicate and lower carbonate contents. Moreover, the molecular geochemistry suggests marine anoxic bottom water conditions during the Cenomanian-Turonian boundary event (CTBE; oceanic anoxic event 2: OAE2). As a proxy for the Sorg/Corg ratio, the ratio total thiophenes/total benzenes compounds was calculated from pyrolysate compositions. The results suggest that Sorg/Corg is low in the Albian, moderate in the Cenomanian, very high in the CTBE and high in the Turonian samples.  Rock-Eval data reveal that the Albian is a moderately organic carbon-rich source rock with good potential to generate oil and gas upon thermal maturation. On the other hand, the samples from the Cenomanian to the Turonian exhibit higher organic carbon contents and can be classified as oil-prone source rocks. Based on Tmax data, all rocks are thermally immature.

The microscopic investigations suggest dominance of submicroscopic organic matter in all samples and different contents of bituminite and alginite. The Albian samples have little visible organic matter and no bituminite. The Cenomanian and CTBE samples are poor in bituminite and have rare visible organic matter, whereas the Turonian samples change from bituminite-fair to bituminite-rich and to higher percentages of visible organic matter towards the younger interval. These differences in the organic matter type are attributed to 1) early diagenetic kerogen sulfurization and 2) the upwelling depositional environment. Moreover, kerogen sulfurization was controlled by the relationship between carbonate, iron and sulfur as well as the organic matter. Thus, the organic carbon-rich deposits can be grouped into: 1) low Sorg and moderately organic matter-rich oil prone source rocks, 2) moderate Sorg and organic-carbon-rich oil prone source rocks, 3) high Sorg and organic carbon-rich oil prone source rocks and 4) very high Sorg and organic carbon-rich oil prone source rocks, the latter being represented by the CTBE. Types 2 to 4 will generate sulfur-rich petroleum upon maturation or artificial oil shale retorting.


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