Regional variations in thickness and facies of clastic sediments are controlled by geographic location within a foreland basin. Preservation of facies is dependent on the original accommodation space available during deposition and ultimately by tectonic modification of the foreland in its postthrusting stages. The preservation of facies within the foreland basin and during the modification stage affects the kinds of hydrocarbon reservoirs that are present.
This is the case for the Cretaceous Mowry Shale and Frontier Formation and equivalent strata in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. Biostratigraphically constrained isopach maps of three intervals within these formations provide a control on eustatic variations in sea level, which allow depositional patterns across dip and along strike to be interpreted in terms of relationship to thrust progression and depositional topography.
The most highly subsiding parts of the Rocky Mountain foreland basin, near the fold and thrust belt to the west, typically contain a low number of coarse-grained sandstone channels but limited sandstone reservoirs. However, where subsidence is greater than sediment supply, the foredeep contains stacked deltaic sandstones, coal, and preserved transgressive marine shales in mainly conformable successions. The main exploration play in this area is currently coalbed gas, but the enhanced coal thickness combined with a Mowry marine shale source rock indicates that a low-permeability, basin-centered play may exist somewhere along strike in a deep part of the basin.
In the slower subsiding parts of the foreland basin, marginal marine and fluvial sandstones are amalgamated and compartmentalized by unconformities, providing conditions for the development of stratigraphic and combination traps, especially in areas of repeated reactivation. Areas of medium accommodation in the most distal parts of the foreland contain isolated marginal marine shoreface and deltaic sandstones that were deposited at or near sea level lowstand and were reworked landward by ravinement and longshore currents by storms creating stratigraphic or combination traps enclosed with marine shale seals.
Paleogeographic reconstructions are used to show exploration fairways of the different play types present in the Laramide-modified, Cretaceous foreland basin. Existing oil and gas fields from these plays show a relatively consistent volume of hydrocarbons, which results from the partitioning of facies within the different parts of the foreland basin.