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SEM petrography of dispersed organic matter in black shales: A review

Dec 20, 2021  

Title: SEM petrography of dispersed organic matter in black shales: A review

Authors: Bei Liu, Maria Mastalerz, Juergen Schieber

Source: Earth-Science Reviews

Available online: 26 November 2021

DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2021.103874



Organic matter (OM)-hosted pores are important constituents of the pore system of black shales and play a crucial role in determining their methane adsorption capacity and porosity. OM-hosted pores are generally observed and described with scanning electron microscope (SEM) on Ar ion-milled surfaces. However, SEM imaging is not able to reliably distinguish OM types and relate the observed pores to specific macerals. Partly because of this inability to relate organic pores to macerals, the evolution of organic porosity during thermal maturation remains poorly understood.

In this paper, we review the petrographic characteristics of dispersed organic matter (DOM) in black shales under the SEM. Organic petrographic classification of DOM developed for reflected-light microscopy is so far the most practical method when describing DOM in black shales under the SEM because this classification has information on the origin of DOM. Therefore, correlative microscopy (combination of reflected-light and electron microscopy) is the most effective method to identify both OM types and OM-hosted pores. This method, however, is not readily available to most researchers. Although identifying OM on the basis of SEM observations is a challenging task, it is achievable provided there is a good understanding of the studied shales, especially their thermal maturity and original OM composition. Therefore, the overall objective of this paper is to review petrographic characteristics of DOM in black shales under the SEM to provide some guidelines for identifying DOM from SEM observations.

We also review factors that control the formation and preservation of OM-hosted pores. OM-hosted pores consist of primary and secondary organic pores. Primary organic pores are pores inherited from the biological structure of the original OM. Secondary organic pores develop during hydrocarbon generation and expulsion from oil-prone OM and are hosted by solid bitumen or pyrobitumen. The development of secondary organic pores is controlled by thermal maturity and OM type, and their preservation is subject to thermal maturity, OM content, and mineralogical composition.

The presented view of the evolution of micropore and mesopore characteristics of OM with thermal maturity is based on data from the literature. The specific surface area and pore volume of OM in black shales follow parabolic patterns with increasing thermal maturity (quantified via vitrinite reflectance, Ro). The initial increase reflects development of OM-hosted pores, and the subsequent decrease is due to denser stacking of aromatic units in the macromolecular structure of OM, with maximum values (specific surface area ~ 300 m2/g and pore volume ~ 0.3 cm3/g) reached at Ro values in the 2.5–3.5% range. The contribution of OM-hosted pores to the pore characteristics of black shales depends on OM content, OM type, and thermal maturity.

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