Hydrocarbon exploration beneath the shallow allochthonous salt canopy of the ultra-deepwater central Gulf of Mexico has encountered three thick, sand-rich, submarine fan successions that punctuate an otherwise relatively condensed and fine-grained basin center stratigraphy. These sand-rich fans are Late Paleocene, Early Miocene, and Middle Miocene in age and each coincide with periods of very high sediment flux and basin margin instability. They are the primary exploration targets in most ultra-deepwater fields, recent discoveries, and failed exploration tests.
The underlying basement configuration contains the horsts and grabens of a rift basin setting. The deep parts of the rift became salt basins filled with the Jurassic Louann salt. During the Cretaceous, kilometers-thick salt nappes extruded from these basins onto the basin margins. The nappes may have coalesced to form a regional allochthonous salt nappe around the margin of the salt basins, similar to the modern Sigsbee Escarpment. Later clastic sedimentation caused deflation of the nappe leaving remnant salt structures behind. The remnant salt bodies form the core structures over which younger sand-rich fans are folded and draped.
Regional 3D PSDM data show that remnant salt bodies from the now deflated Cretaceous nappe form the core structure in fields at Chinook and Cascade and in recent discoveries at Stones, Das Bump, St. Malo, and Jack. Both seismic and well data show that the sand-rich outer fan of all three fan systems overlies the zone of salt nappe remnants. It would be a remarkable coincidence for the sandy outer fans of three different age depositional systems and the termination of two more widely separated (both temporally and spatially) allochthonous salt systems to stack vertically. The fact that they do suggests that both deep-water fan deposition and allochthonous salt emplacement were responding to a deeper structural control.