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Keywords:

  • oil;
  • seeps;
  • carbonate source rocks;
  • organic geochemistry;
  • biomarkers;
  • Belize;
  • Guatemala;
  • Central America

This study reviews the stratigraphy and the poorly documented petroleum geology of the Belize-Guatemala area in northern Central America. Guatemala is divided by the east-west trending La Libertad arch into the North and South Petén Basins. The arch is the westward continuation of the Maya Mountains fault block in central Belize which separates the Corozal Basin in northern Belize from the Belize Basin to the south. Numerous petroleum seeps have been reported in both of these basins. Small-scale oil production takes place in the Corozal Basin and the North and South Petén Basins. For this study, samples of crude oil, seepage oil and potential source rocks were collected from both countries and were investigated by organic geochemical analyses and microscopy. The oil samples consisted of non-biodegraded crude oils and slightly to severely biodegraded seepage oils, both of which were generated from source rocks with similar thermal maturities. The crude oils were generated from marine carbonate source rocks and could be divided into three groups:

Group 1 oils come from the North Petén Basin (Guatemala) and the western part of the Corozal Basin (Belize), and have a typical carbonate-sourced geochemical composition. The oils correlate with extracts of organic-rich limestones assigned to the Upper Cretaceous “Xan horizon” in the Xan oilfield in the North Petén Basin. The oils were generated from a single source facies in the North Petén Basin, but were charged from two different sub-basins.

Group 2 oils comprise crudes from the South Petén Basin. They have characteristics typical of carbonate-sourced oils, but these characteristics are less pronounced than those of Group 1 oils. A mixed marine/lacustrine source facies deposited under strongly reducing conditions in a local kitchen area is inferred.

Group 3 oils come from the Corozal Basin, Belize. A carbonate but also a more “shaly” source rock composition for these oils is inferred. A severely biodegraded seepage oil from Belmopan, the capital of Belize, resembles a nearby crude oil. The eastern sub-basin in the North Petén Basin may potentially be the kitchen area for these oils, and for the seepage oils found in the western part of the Corozal Basin.

The seepage oils from the Corozal and Belize Basins are moderately to severely biodegraded and were generated from carbonate source rocks. Some of the seepage oils have identical C27–29 sterane distributions to the Group 2 oils, but “biodegradation insensitive” biomarker ratios show that the seepage oils can be divided into separate sub-groups. Severely and slightly biodegraded seepage oils in the Belize Basin were probably almost identical prior to biodegradation.

Lower Cretaceous limestones from the Belize Basin have petroleum generation potential, but the samples are immature. The kitchen for the seepage oils in the Belize Basin remains unknown.