Production of oil and natural gas from North American chalks has increased significantly during the past five years, spurred by the prolific production from North Sea chalks, as well as by higher prices and improved production technology. Chalk reservoirs have been discovered in the Gulf Coast in the Austin Group, Saratoga and Annona Chalks, Ozan Formation, Selma Group, Monroe gas rock (an informal unit of Navarro age), and other Upper Cretaceous units. In the Western Interior, production has been obtained from the Cretaceous Niobrara and Greenhorn Formations. Significant, though subcommercial, discoveries of natural gas and gas condensate also have been made in the Upper Cretaceous Wyandot Formation on the Scotian Shelf of eastern Canada.
All North American chalk units share a similar depositional and diagenetic history. The chalks consist primarily of whole and fragmented coccoliths with subordinate planktonic and benthonic Foraminifera, inoceramid prisms, oysters, and other skeletal grains. Most have between 10 and 35 percent HCl-insoluble residue, predominantly clay. Deposition was principally below wave base in tens to hundreds of meters of water.
The diagenetic history of a chalk is critical in determining its reservoir potential. All chalk has a stable composition (low-Mg calcite) and very high primary porosity. With subsequent burial, mechanical and chemical (solution-transfer) compaction can reduce or completely eliminate pore space. The degree of loss of primary porosity in chalk sections is normally a direct function of the maximum depth to which it has been buried. Pore-water chemistry, pore-fluid pressures, and tectonic stresses also influence rates of cementation. Oil or gas reservoirs of North American chalk fall into three main groups:
1. Areas with thin overburden and significant primary porosity retention (for example, Niobrara Formation of Kansas and eastern Colorado).
2. Areas with thicker overburden but considerable fracturing. Here primary porosity has been largely lost but secondary (fracture) porosity provides some storage capacity and greatly improves permeability (for example, Austin Group of the Pearsall field, Texas).
3. Areas with thick overburden in which marine pore fluids have been retained, or where hydrocarbons (including biogenically generated methane) were introduced early in the diagenetic history.
In these settings, primary porosity is reduced to a lesser degree than in group two, and adequate reservoir properties can be maintained to depths approaching 2,000 m (6,600 ft) (for example, Scotian Shelf of Canada).
Continued small-scale oil and gas discoveries can be expected from these types of reservoirs in North America. The prolific production of oil and gas from North Sea chalk reservoirs will not be matched in North America unless deeply buried, overpressured chalks can be located. It is the early formation of overpressures and (or) early oil input into North Sea chalks that have preserved porosities as high as 40 percent at 3,000- to 3,500-m (9,800- to 11,500-ft) depths and provided the outstanding reservoir capacity of those chalks.