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Bulletin Article

Organic-carbon–rich shales of the lower Marcellus Formation were deposited at the toe and basinward of a prograding clinothem associated with a Mahantango Formation delta complex centered near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Distribution of these organic-carbon–rich shales was influenced by shifts in the delta complex driven by changes in rates of accommodation creation and by a topographically high carbonate bank that formed along the Findlay-Algonquin arch during deposition of the Onondaga Formation. Specifically, we interpret the Union Springs member (Shamokin Member of the Marcellus Formation) and the Onondaga Formation as comprising a single third-order depositional sequence. The Onondaga Formation was deposited in the lowstand to transgressive systems tract, and the Union Springs member was deposited in the transgressive, highstand, and falling-stage systems tract. The regional extent of parasequences, systems tracts, and the interpreted depositional sequence suggest that base-level fluctuations were primarily caused by allogenic forcing—eustasy, climate, or regional thermal uplift or subsidence—instead of basement fault reactivation as argued by previous workers. Paleowater depths in the region of Marcellus Formation black mudrock accumulation were at least 330 ft (100 m) as estimated by differences in strata thickness between the northwestern carbonate bank and basinal facies to the southeast. Geochemical analysis indicates anoxic to euxinic bottom-water conditions. These conditions were supported by a deep, stratified basin with a lack of circulation.

This article describes a 250-m (820-ft)-thick upper Eocene deep-water clastic succession. This succession is divided into two reservoir zones: the lower sandstone zone (LSZ) and the upper sandstone zone, separated by a package of pelitic rocks with variable thickness on the order of tens of meters. The application of sequence-stratigraphic methodology allowed the subdivision of this stratigraphic section into third-order systems tracts.

The LSZ is characterized by blocky and fining-upward beds on well logs, and includes interbedded shale layers of as much as 10 m (33 ft) thick. This zone reaches a maximum thickness of 150 m (492 ft) and fills a trough at least 4 km (2 mi) wide, underlain by an erosional surface. The lower part of this zone consists of coarse- to medium-grained sandstones with good vertical pressure communication. We interpret this unit as vertically and laterally amalgamated channel-fill deposits of high-density turbidity flows accumulated during late forced regression. The sandstones in the upper part of this trough are dominantly medium to fine grained and display an overall fining-upward trend. We interpret them as laterally amalgamated channel-fill deposits of lower density turbidity flows, relative to the ones in the lower part of the LSZ, accumulated during lowstand to early transgression.

The pelitic rocks that separate the two sandstone zones display variable thickness, from 35 to more than 100 m (115–>328 ft), indistinct seismic facies, and no internal markers on well logs, and consist of muddy diamictites with contorted shale rip-up clasts. This section is interpreted as cohesive debris flows and/or mass-transported slumps accumulated during late transgression.

The upper sandstone zone displays a weakly defined blocky well-log signature, where the proportion of sand is higher than 80%, and a jagged well-log signature, where the sand proportion is lower than 60%. The high proportions of sand are associated with a channelized geometry that is well delineated on seismic amplitude maps. Several depositional elements are identified within this zone, including leveed channels, crevasse channels, and splays associated with turbidity flows. This package is interpreted as the product of increased terrigenous sediment supply during highstand normal regression.


Criteria for recognizing stratigraphic sequences are well established on continental margins but more challenging to apply in basinal settings. We report an investigation of the Upper Devonian Woodford Shale, Permian Basin, west Texas based on a set of four long cores, identifying sea level cycles and stratigraphic sequences in an organic-rich shale.

The Woodford Shale is dominated by organic-rich mudstone, sharply overlain by a bioturbated organic-poor mudstone that is consistent with a second-order eustatic sea level fall. Interbedded with the organic-rich mudstone are carbonate beds, chert beds, and radiolarian laminae, all interpreted as sediment gravity-flow deposits. Bundles of interbedded mudstone and carbonate beds alternate with intervals of organic-rich mudstone and thin radiolaria-rich laminae, defining a 5–10 m (16–33 ft)-thick third-order cyclicity. The former are interpreted to represent highstand systems tracts, whereas the latter are interpreted as representing falling stage, lowstand, and transgressive systems tracts. Carbonate beds predominate in the lower Woodford section, associated with highstand shedding at a second-order scale; chert beds predominate in the upper Woodford section, responding to the second-order lowstand.

Additional variability is introduced by geographic position. Wells nearest the western margin of the basin have the greatest concentration of carbonate beds caused by proximity to a carbonate platform. A well near the southern margin has the greatest concentration of chert beds, resulting from shedding of biogenic silica from a southern source. A well in the basin center has little chert and carbonate; here, third-order sea level cycles were primarily reflected in the stratigraphic distribution of radiolarian-rich laminae.


Sequence stratigraphy and coal cycles based on accommodation trends were investigated in the coal-bearing Lower Cretaceous Mannville Group in the Lloydminster heavy oil field, eastern Alberta. The study area is in a low accommodation setting on the cratonic margin of the Western Canada sedimentary basin. Geophysical log correlation of coal seams, shoreface facies, and the identification of incised valleys has produced a sequence-stratigraphic framework for petrographic data from 3 cored and 115 geophysical-logged wells. Maceral analysis, telovitrinite reflectance, and fluorescence measurements were taken from a total of 206 samples. Three terrestrial depositional environments were interpreted from the petrographic data: ombrotrophic mire coal, limnotelmatic mire coal, and carbonaceous shale horizons. Accommodation-based coal (wetting- and drying-upward) cycles represent trends in depositional environment shifts, and these cycles were used to investigate the development and preservation of the coal seams across the study area.

The low-accommodation strata are characterized by a high-frequency occurrence of significant surfaces, coal seam splitting, paleosol, and incised-valley development. Three sequence boundary unconformities are identified in only 20 m (66 ft) of strata. Coal cycle correlations illustrate that each coal seam in this study area was not produced by a single peat-accumulation episode but as an amalgamation of a series of depositional events. Complex relations between the Cummings and Lloydminster coal seams are caused by the lateral fragmentation of strata resulting from the removal of sediment by subaerial erosion or periods of nondeposition. Syndepositional faulting of the underlying basement rock changed local accommodation space and increased the complexity of the coal cycle development.

This study represents a low-accommodation example from a spectrum of stratigraphic studies that have been used to establish a terrestrial sequence-stratigraphic model. The frequency of changes in coal seam quality is an important control on methane distribution within coalbed methane reservoirs and resource calculations in coal mining. A depositional model based on the coal cycle correlations, as shown by this study, can provide coal quality prediction for coalbed methane exploration, reservoir completions, and coal mining.

DL Abstract


Challenges for global gas shale production include infrastructural and geological with the Marcellus providing an analogue for both. (Infrastructural) The production from the Marcellus gas shale presents unique challenges that include issues associated with leasing, geology, landowners, virtually no deep disposal wells, state governments without a severance tax, several river basin commissions, an infrastructure designed for shallow gas production, an emotional group of environmentalists, and one state that has yet to permit horizontal well stimulation.


Numerous studies of sediment-dispersal systems have focused on the relative role of allogenic versus autogenic controls, and their stratigraphic imprint. Advancing our understanding of these vital issues depends heavily on geochronology.


The Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is the 9th largest body of water on earth, covering an area of approximately 1.6 million km2 with water depths reaching 4,400 m (14,300’). The basin formed as a result of crustal extension during the early Mesozoic breakup of Pangaea. Rifting occurred from the Late Triassic to early Middle Jurassic. Continued extension through the Middle Jurassic combined with counter-clockwise rotation of crustal blocks away from North America produced highly extended continental crust in the subsiding basin center. Subsidence eventually allowed oceanic water to enter from the west leading to thick, widespread, evaporite deposition. Seafloor spreading initiated in the Late Jurassic eventually splitting the evaporite deposits into northern (USA) and southern (Mexican) basins. Recent work suggests that this may have been accomplished by asymmetric extension, crustal delamination, and exposure of the lower crust or upper mantle rather than true sea floor spreading (or it could be some combination of the two). By 135 Ma almost all extension had ceased and the basic configuration of the GOM basin seen today was established. The Laramide Orogeny was the last major tectonic event impacting the GOM. It caused uplift and erosion for the NW margin from the Late Cretaceous to early Eocene.

Explorer Article


"Breakthrough elegance": ExxonMobil geologists Jeff Ottmann and Kevin Bohacs shared their highly-coveted knowledge on sweet spots and producibility thresholds at a recent Geosciences Technology Workshop on Unconventional Reservoir Quality.

Explorer Emphasis


New dimensions: Geoscientists study how 3-D views of Eagle Ford outcrops are a great tool.

Explorer Geophysical Corner


This article introduces a new set of seismic attributes that play an important role in extracting detailed stratigraphic information from seismic data.

Field Seminar

Grand Junction Colorado United States 04 September, 2014 11 September, 2014 86
Grand Junction, Colorado, United States
4-11 September 2014

Participants will learn through the use of spectacular outcrops, subsurface datasets, and stratigraphic modeling how these systems tracts and key surfaces (flooding surfaces and sequence boundaries) may be recognized.


Oklahoma City Oklahoma United States 29 May, 2014 29 May, 2014 3810
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States
29 May 2014
Join us for an intensive one-day forum which will focus on optimizing the exploration and development of the Woodford Shale. We're looking at recent findings in geochemistry and geomechanics to understand how best to drill and complete the reservoir, and also where the productive limits may be.

Short Course

Austin Texas United States 29 April, 2014 01 May, 2014 1518
Austin, Texas, United States
29 April - 1 May 2014

The overall goal of this course is to provide tools for efficient and effective re-exploration and development. It uses a two-part approach. First it uses petrophysical analysis to understand all that can be derived from examination of standard open-hole logs. This is followed by integrated approaches to discover key factors controlling oil and gas distribution in carbonate reservoirs in the greater Midcontinent USA. Methodologies and workflows reviewed include geosteering and evaluation of horizontal wells and optimizing carbon storage utilization and management.

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