Alaska, which contains about 28% of the land and continental shelf of the United States, is estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey to contain about one third of the nation's undiscovered oil and about one sixth of its undiscovered natural gas. The Survey estimates that fields discovered in Alaska through 1972 ultimately may produce about 26 billion bbl of oil and 68 Tcf of natural gas. In northern Alaska, Paleozoic and Mesozoic shelf and slope carbonate and clastic rocks of the Brooks Range orogen were thrust relatively northward over the depressed south margin of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic Arctic platform. A foredeep, the Colville geosyncline, developed across the depressed margin of the platform in earliest Cretaceous time. Detritus from the Brooks Range filled the foredeep and prograded northward to fill the Cretaceous and Tertiary North Chukchi and Umiat-Camden basins and form the progradational Beaufort shelf. The largest petroleum reserves (Prudhoe Bay and associated fields) and the best prospects for additional large discoveries in Alaska lie in the areally extensive upper Paleozoic to Tertiary carbonate and clastic rocks of northern Alaska. In southern Alaska, a series of arc-trench systems developed on oceanic rocks during Jurassic and Cretaceous time. Between these arcs and the metamorphic (continental) terranes of east-central and northern Alaska, large back-arc and arc-trench gap basins received thick volcanic and detrital deposits. These deposits were extensively, and commonly intensely, deformed and disrupted by mid-Jurassic to Tertiary plutonism, Laramide oroclinal bending, wrench faulting, and arc-related compression. This deformation, coupled with low porosity (in part produced by diagenetic mobilization of labile constituents), has left these rocks with only modest, local prospects for petroleum. Laramide events compressed and consolidated ("continentalized") the late Mesozoic back-arc basin deposits and welded them to the older continental terranes on the north and east. Subsequent sedimentation was localized and nonmarine except in onshore and offshore coastal basins, where thick sections of mixed marine and nonmarine Tertiary sediments accumulated. The Aleutian arc and the associated Queen Charlotte transform-fault system have dominated structural and depositional patterns in southern Alaska, including many of the Tertiary coastal basins, since the early Cenozoic. The Tertiary coastal basins are areally extensive, and in some areas contain many large folds. They are known to be petroliferous in Bristol Bay and the Gulf of Alaska, and to contain major accumulations of oil and gas at Cook Inlet, but they are relatively little explored.
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Tectonic framework of petroliferous rocks in Alaska: hydrocarbons