The Mudrock Observatory Project

Studies undertaken in the Mudrock Observatory project module aim to characterize and analyze a number of carefully selected mudrock successions to yield fundamental insight into what geological conditions led to development of organic-rich shales with exceptional unconventional hydrocarbon potential. The work will assist with the broader goal of developing predictive models for unconventional hydrocarbon occurrence that is underpinned by an understanding of the global conditions that favor their development.

The project will achieve these aims through an extensive program of petrographic and geochemical analysis of fine-grained rocks from known and potential unconventional hydrocarbon plays, several of which have been selected because the shales formed at times of major palaeo-environmental change, such as during global Oceanic Anoxic Events.

Major components of the Mudrock Observatory will be to explore the role of original depositional conditions on early diagenesis, and development of the hypothesis that diagenesis leads to predictable early development of natural fracture systems in shales. In addition to making use of extensive use of subsurface materials, data, and expertise from within Shell, the Mudrock Observatory researchers are carrying out an ambitious program of fieldwork on classic mud-dominated successions of a range of ages across the Phanerozoic.

Mudrock Observatory Equipment

The Mudrock Observatory makes use of existing Oxford University carbon and oxygen-isotope, elemental analysis, and optical microscopy facilities and a RockEval6 organic matter pyrolysis analyser. In addition, the Mudrock Observatory equipment will soon be complemented by the acquisition of a state of the art FEG SEM for backscatter and EDS analysis of fine-grained sediments.

Mudrock Observatory Researchers

The Mudrock Observatory is led by Stephen Hesselbo, Hugh Jenkyns and Joe Cartwright,  with Micha Rhul as the principal post-doctoral researcher.  Associated doctoral students are Weimu Xu (Chinese lacustrine shales) and Marisa Storm (Early Jurassic global events, Neuquén Basin, Argentina and NW European basins).