Structural plays in Ellesmerian sequence and correlative strata of the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska

Open-File Report 2003-253




Reservoirs in deformed rocks of the Ellesmerian sequence in southern NPRA are assigned to two hydrocarbon plays, the Thrust-Belt play and the Ellesmerian Structural play. The two plays differ in that the Thrust-Belt play consists of reservoirs located in allochthonous strata in the frontal part of the Brooks Range fold-and-thrust belt, whereas those of the Ellesmerian Structural play are located in autochthonous or parautochthonous strata at deeper structural levels north of the Thrust-Belt play. Together, these structural plays are expected to contain about 3.5 TCF of gas but less than 6 million barrels of oil.

These two plays are analyzed using a two-stage deformational model. The first stage of deformation occurred during the Neocomian, when distal strata of the Ellesmerian sequence were imbricated and assembled into deformational wedges emplaced northward onto regionally south-dipping authochon at 140-120 Ma. In the mid-Cretaceous following cessation of the deformation, the Colville basin, the foreland basin to the orogen, was filled with a thick clastic succession. During the second stage of deformation at about 60 Ma (early Tertiary), the combined older orogenic belt-foreland basin system was involved in another episode of north-vergent contractional deformation that deformed pre-existing stratigraphic and structurally trapped reservoir units, formed new structural traps, and caused significant amounts of uplift, although the amount of shortening was relatively small in comparison to the first episode of deformation.

Hydrocarbon generation from source strata (Shublik Formation, Kingak Shale, and Otuk Formation) and migration into stratigraphic traps occurred primarily by sedimentary burial principally between 100-90 Ma, between the times of the two episodes of deformation. Subsequent burial caused deep stratigraphic traps to become overmature, cracking oil to gas, and some new generation to begin progressively higher in the section. Structural disruption of the traps in the Early Tertiary is hypothesized to have released sequestered hydrocarbons and caused remigration into newly formed structural traps formed at higher structural levels. Because of the generally high maturation of the Colville basin at the time of the deformation and remigration, most of the hydrocarbons available to fill traps were gas.

In the the Thrust-Belt play, the primary reservoir lithology is expected to be dolomitic carbonate rocks of the Lisburne Group, which contain up to 15% porosity. Antiformal stacks of imbricated Lisburne Group strata form the primary trapping configuration, with chert and shale of the overlying Etivluk Group forming seals on closures. Traps are expected to have been charged primarily with remigrated gas, but oil generated from local sources in the Otuk Formation may have filled some traps at high structural levels. The timing for migration of gas into traps is excellent, but only moderate for oil because peak oil generation for the play as a whole occurred 30 to 40 m.y. before trap formation. Reservoir and seal quality in the play are questionable, reducing the likelyhood of hydrocarbon accumulations being present in the play. Our analysis suggests that the play will hold 5.7 million barrels of technically recoverable oil and 1.5 TCF gas (mean values).

In the Ellesmerian Stuctural play, the primary reservoir lithologies will be dolomitic carbonate rocks of the Lisburne Group and, less likely, clastic units in the Ellesmerian sequence. Traps in the play are anticlinal closures caused by small amounts of strain in the footwall below the basal detachment for most early Tertiary thrusting. Because these traps lie beneath the main source rock units (Shublik, Kingak, lower Brookian sequence), reservoirs that are juxtaposed by faulting against source-rock units are expected to have the most favorable migration pathways. The charge will be primarily remigrated gas; no oil is expected because of the great depths (15,000 to 26,000 ft) and consequent high thermal maturity of this play. Although the the probability of charge and timeliness of trap formation and gas remigration are excellent, seal and reservoir qualities are anticipated to be poor. Our analysis suggests that about 2.0 TCF of techncially recoverable gas can be expected in the play.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Structural plays in Ellesmerian sequence and correlative strata of the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Geology, Minerals, Energy and Geophysics Science Center
40 p.
United States
Other Geospatial:
National Petroleum Reserve