Effects of thermal maturation and thermochemical sulfate reduction on compound-specific sulfur isotopic compositions of organosulfur compounds in Phosphoria oils from the Bighorn Basin, USA

Geoffrey S. Ellis, Ward Said-Ahmad, Paul G. Lillis, Lubna Shawar, Alon Amrani*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Compound-specific sulfur isotope analysis was applied to a suite of 18 crude oils generated from the Permian Phosphoria Formation in the Bighorn Basin, western USA. These oils were generated at various levels of thermal maturity and some experienced thermochemical sulfate reduction (TSR). This is the first study to examine the effects of thermal maturation on stable sulfur isotopic compositions of individual organosulfur compounds (OSCs) in crude oil. A general trend of 34S enrichment in all of the studied compounds with increasing thermal maturity was observed, with the δ34S values of alkyl-benzothiophenes (BTs) tending to be enriched in 34S relative to those of the alkyl-dibenzothiophenes (DBTs) in lower-maturity oils. As thermal maturity increases, δ34S values of both BTs and DBTs become progressively heavier, but the difference in the average δ34S value of the BTs and DBTs (Δ34S BT-DBT) decreases. Differences in the isotopic response to thermal stress exhibited by these two compound classes are considered to be the result of relative differences in their thermal stabilities. TSR-altered Bighorn Basin oils have OSCs that are generally enriched in 34S relative to non-TSR-altered oils, with the BTs being enriched in 34S relative to the DBTs, similar to the findings of previous studies. However, several oils that were previously interpreted to have been exposed to minor TSR have Δ34S BT-DBT values that do not support this interpretation. The δ34S values of the BTs and DBTs in some of these oils suggest that they did not experience TSR, but were derived from a more thermally mature source. The heaviest δ34S values observed in the OSCs are enriched in 34S by up to 10‰ relative to that of Permian anhydrite in the Bighorn Basin, suggesting that there may be an alternate or additional source of sulfate in some parts of the basin. These results indicate that the sulfur isotopic composition of OSCs in oil provides a sensitive indicator for the extent of TSR, which cannot be determined from other bulk geochemical parameters. Moreover, when combined with additional geochemical and geologic evidence, the sulfur isotopic composition of OSCs in oils can help to identify the source of sulfate for TSR alteration in petroleum reservoirs.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)63-78
Number of pages16
JournalOrganic Geochemistry
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the U.S. Geological Survey, Energy Resources Program, organic geochemistry laboratory personnel, Zach Lowry, Augusta Warden, Tammy Hanna, and Mark Drier for providing biomarker and bulk oil geochemical analyses. Alon Amrani thanks the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF) grant number 1269/12 for partial support of this study. Lubna Shawar thanks the Ministry of Infrastructure of Israel for PhD study grant. We appreciate the detailed comments and suggestions by Mike Lewan, Richard Worden, Ken Peters and an anonymous reviewer on an earlier version of this paper that significantly improved it. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. government.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd


  • Bighorn Basin
  • Compound-specific sulfur isotopes
  • Oil cracking
  • Thermal maturity
  • Thermochemical sulfate reduction


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