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Hydrocarbon exploration always begins with the source rocks. The chemistry, level of maturity and ability or not of these rocks to expel hydrocarbons is the defining factor governing whether an area will be prospective or not and by how much.

Basin modelling is a subject area, which encompasses the study of source rocks and their evolution through time. It includes investigating source rock geochemistry, thermal histories, source kitchen definition and hydrocarbon generation and expulsion. This is important as source rocks are highly variable and often have complex chemistries requiring skilled geochemists to define them.

Thermal histories determine whether these rocks have moved into the oil or gas window, how long they have remained there and whether they are still at their deepest depth of burial (the latter defined in conjunction with other geological techniques). If source rocks are found to be generating hydrocarbons, basin modellers can use computer simulations to determine the likely amount of expulsion and, with input from seismic mapping, where they are likely to have migrated to in the basin.

This type of analysis can determine whether a company will choose to explore further in a basin or not. In addition, there has lately been attention given to unconventional resources. Unconventional hydrocarbon extraction involves the mechanical or chemical stimulation of a source rock.

Given the sensitivity of this technique, it is therefore very important that these rocks are studied and the resources in the Lyell Centre will allow this investigation to be undertaken in a thorough and scientific manner.