Geologic structure and occurrence of gas in part of southwestern New York

Bulletin 899
By: , and 



The area covered by this report is in southwestern New York and includes a little more than 3,000 square miles in Steuben and Yates counties and parts of the six adjacent counties. This area has been mapped to determine the structural attitude of the exposed rocks, so as to aid those interested in prospecting for natural gas in the Oriskany sandstone of Lower Devonian age.

Because of the gentle regional dip toward the southwest, the youngest beds are exposed in the southwest corner of the area, and progressively older beds crop out northeastward in successive bands that strike generally northwest. All the exposed rocks are of Upper Devonian age except those in a narrow belt at the extreme north edge of the area, where a small thickness of Middle Devonian rocks crops out. The maximum thickness of beds so exposed is nearly 4,000 feet, of which the lower part is predominantly soft dark shale and the upper part predominantly fine-grained sandstone and gray shale. All the beds are marine except a few tongues of continental deposits—red shale and sandstone and gray mudstone—in the youngest beds. All the beds thicken southeastward, so that there is a northwestward convergence between any two lithologic units in the series. More than 30 key horizons that are persistent and distinctive were mapped, and altitudes on these key horizons served as a basis for constructing the structure contour map. Many of the key horizons are formation or member boundaries, but others are the tops or bottoms of limestone or sandstone beds within formations. All the stratigraphic units mapped are purely lithologic. (See pl. 2.)

The Tully limestone, which crops out along the northern border of the area, is an easily recognizable and therefore valuable key bed for subsurface correlations in this part of the State. Below the Tully limestone is a thick body of Middle Devonian shales of the Hamilton group which rests on another valuable key bed, the hard, cherty Onondaga limestone, also of Middle Devonian age. Below the Onondaga limestone is the Lower Devonian Oriskany sandstone, which is the gas-producing bed. Unlike the Onondaga, the Oriskany is locally thin or absent.

The structure of most of the area is shown by contour lines at 25-foot intervals, but, where key horizons are lacking the structure is indicated by dip symbols. Upon the regional south and southwest dip are superposed numerous gentle folds whose axes trend approximately northeastward in the greater part of the area but more nearly eastward in the eastern part. The folds generally tend to become narrower and steeper, and therefore more closely spaced, southwestward. Many of the anticlines fork southwestward, whereas the synclines tend to fork northeastward. All the folds have a westward or southwestward plunge.

Throughout the area the rocks are jointed in two dominant sets—one that trends northwest and the other east or northeast. No evident relation between these joints, which were measured only in the hard, relatively brittle beds, and the individual folds or domes was discernible.

The faults are concentrated in the northeastern and southwestern parts of the area and trend either northeastward or northwestward. Some are nearly vertical normal faults ; others are steep reverse faults. Subsurface data show that most of the faults increase in throw downward and also that many subsurface faults do not reach the surface. A group of faults in the northwestern part of the Greenwood quadrangle and the southwestern part of the Hornell quadrangle were active during Upper Devonian time, while the Gowanda shale and overlying beds were being deposited. At this stratigraphic horizon the beds in a zone a few hundred feet thick are highly deformed in a wide belt on both sides of the faults. Sandstone layers are thinned out into long stringers or swollen into thick masses and in places are bent acutely without fracture. Thin layers of shale, coquina, and sand have flowed together into intricately plicated zones that lack cleavage and joints. These features show that the sediments were deformed while wet and plastic and buried only a little way below the sea floor. The beds that were laid down over these disturbed zones were not involved in this deformation. Many of the sharper flexures and most of the faults are not evident in the beds several hundred feet stratigraphically higher. Accordingly, broad, gentle folds in these higher beds in parts of the area south and west of the northwest corner of the Greenwood quadrangle may conceal, at considerable depths below them, narrow folds separated by abrupt flexures or faults.

Several of the larger streams and rivers occupy strike valleys, and their courses swing to follow the changing strike of the rocks where they cross successive folds. But, with few exceptions, the small streams are not adjusted to the bedrock structure.

Domes likely to serve as traps for natural gas are concentrated in the northeastern and southwestern parts of the area. The Wayne-Dundee gas field is in the northeastern part. All the other potentially valuable domes in this part of the area have been drilled and found valueless except one small structural feature in the southern part of the Ovid quadrangle, which, if the Oriskany is present, may trap a small quantity of gas.

In the Greenwood quadrangle in the southwestern part of the area there is one gas field and four well-defined domes, all of which may be productive if the Oriskany sandstone is present. In the northwest corner of the quadrangle the dips indicate at least two domes that can be adequately defined and evaluated only by geophysical prospecting. The State Line gas field is in the Wellsville quadrangle. In the southeast corner of this quadrangle there are three other domes of comparable size that may also be productive if underlain by the Oriskany sandstone. At other places in the Wellsville quadrangle the dips suggest several anticlinal axes on which analogous productive domes may be found. The structural features in this quadrangle, however, are defined by contours only in the southeastern part. In the Woodhull quadrangle a large dome east of Jasper may be productive, and the western top of the large Wood-hull dome in the southwestern part of the quadrangle seems to warrant drilling, despite the absence of the Oriskany in a well on the eastern top. Two wells drilled in 1936 and 1937 a little northeast of a broad, nearly flat-topped dome in the Hornell quadrangle, a few miles east of Hornell, struck small flows of gas, suggesting that wells drilled higher on this dome may be productive.

In much of the southwestern part of the area seismograph surveys should be of great value in determining the structure at the Tully and Onondaga horizons. Without abundant subsurface control of this sort, the danger of drilling into subsurface faults can hardly be overemphasized.

Three closed or nearly closed synclines in the Greenwood and Wellsville quadrangles appear to be favorable places to drill for oil in the shallow sands— presumably parts of the Dunkirk sandstone.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geologic structure and occurrence of gas in part of southwestern New York
Series title Bulletin
Series number 899
DOI 10.3133/b899
Year Published 1941
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Description Report: iv, 93 p.; Plate: 33.83 x 35.33 inches
Country United States
State New York
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