Interpretation of source rock depositional environment and age from seep oil, east coast of New Zealand

  • Zachary F. M. Burton
  • J. Michael Moldowan
  • Leslie B. Magoon
  • Richard Sykes
  • Stephan A. Graham
Original Paper


Biomarker fingerprints of crude oil samples from four onshore East Coast Basin oil seeps were analyzed to assess source rock characteristics including type of organic matter input, redox conditions, sedimentary facies, and age. Results show that samples generally form two groups, correlating with geographic location: a northern and a southern group. Source rocks associated with all seep samples are interpreted to be marine. However, results suggest northern samples had more terrigenous organic matter input to their source rock(s), while southern samples had more marine input. Results suggest northern sample source rock(s) had more oxic depositional environments, whereas southern sample source rock had more reducing environments. A shale source rock sedimentary facies was indicated for all samples. These observations suggest that southern samples may be derived from slightly higher quality source rocks (higher HI, deposited in more reducing conditions), although source rocks in both regions are oil prone. Biomarker age parameters suggest that the northern oil samples are from a younger (Cenozoic) source rock, whereas the southern oil samples are from an older (Cretaceous) source rock. Source rock characteristics (depositional environment and age) point to the presence of two different source rocks. We postulate that northern oils samples from younger source rock with more terrigenous organic matter input represent the upper Paleocene Waipawa Formation, whereas southern oil samples from older source rock with more marine organic matter input represent the Upper Cretaceous to Paleocene Whangai Formation.


New Zealand Oil seeps Source rock Depositional environment Age East Coast Basin 



The authors thank Andrew Hanson and Gary Muscio for their comments and review which improved the manuscript, and also thank editors Wolf-Christian Dullo and Peter Kukla. ZB would like to thank the Stanford University Basin and Petroleum System Modeling (BPSM) Industrial Affiliates Program, the AAPG Grants-In-Aid Program, and the Stanford School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences McGee/Levorsen Research Grant Program for funding and the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory for a Professional Internship/Fellowship. ZB also would like to thank Allegra Hosford Scheirer, Inessa Yurchenko, William Thompson-Butler, and the staff at GNS Science, Biomarker Technologies, Inc., and GeoMark Research for useful comments and assistance. RS would like to thank the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment for funding through the GNS Science-led research program on New Zealand petroleum source rocks, fluids, and plumbing systems (contract C05X1507).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing financial interest.


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Copyright information

© Geologische Vereinigung e.V. (GV) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geological SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Biomarker Technologies IncorporatedRohnert ParkUSA
  3. 3.GNS ScienceLower HuttNew Zealand

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