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Authors: Shuai, Yanhua* 
Etiope, Giuseppe* 
Zhang, Shuichang* 
Douglas, Peter M.J.* 
Huang, Ling* 
Eiler, John M.* 
Title: Methane clumped isotopes in the Songliao Basin (China): New insights into abiotic vs. biotic hydrocarbon formation
Issue Date: 2018
Series/Report no.: /482 (2018)
DOI: 10.1016/j.epsl.2017.10.057
Abstract: Abiotic hydrocarbon gas, typically generated in serpentinized ultramafic rocks and crystalline shields, has important implications for the deep biosphere, petroleum systems, the carbon cycle and astrobiology. Distinguishing abiotic gas (produced by chemical reactions like Sabatier synthesis) from biotic gas (produced from degradation of organic matter or microbial activity) is sometimes challenging because their isotopic and molecular composition may overlap. Abiotic gas has been recognized in numerous locations on the Earth, although there are no confirmed instances where it is the dominant source of commercially valuable quantities in reservoir rocks. The deep hydrocarbon reservoirs of the Xujiaweizi Depression in the Songliao Basin (China) have been considered to host significant amounts of abiotic methane. Here we report methane clumped-isotope values ( 18) and the isotopic composition of C1–C3alkanes, CO2and helium of five gas samples collected from those Xujiaweizi deep reservoirs. Some geochemical features of these samples resemble previously suggested identifiers of abiotic gas (13C-enriched CH4; decrease in 13C/12C ratio with increasing carbon number for the C1–C4alkanes; abundant, apparently non-biogenic CO2; and mantle-derived helium). However, combining these constraints with new measurements of the clumped-isotope composition of methane and careful consideration of the geological context, suggests that the Xujiaweizi depression gas is dominantly, if not exclusively, thermogenic and derived from over-mature source rocks, i.e., from catagenesis of buried organic matter at high temperatures. Methane formation temperatures suggested by clumped-isotopes (167–213◦C) are lower than magmatic gas generation processes and consistent with the maturity of local source rocks. Also, there are no geological conditions (e.g., serpentinized ultramafic rocks) that may lead to high production of H2and thus abiotic production of CH4via CO2reduction. We propose that the Songliao gas is representative of an atypical type of thermogenic gas that can be mistaken for abiotic gas. Such gases may be encountered more frequently in future exploration of deep or over-mature petroleum systems.
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