Geologic summary of the Appalachian basin, with reference to the subsurface disposal of radioactive waste solutions

Trace Elements Investigations 791
Prepared on behalf of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission



The Appalachian basin is an elongate depression in the crystalline basement complex which contains a great volume of predominantly sedimentary stratified rocks. As defined in this paper it extends from the Adirondack Mountains in New York to central Alabama. From east to west it extends from the west flank of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the crest of the Findlay and Cincinnati arches and the Nashville dome. It encompasses an area of about 207,000 square miles, including all of West Virginia and parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

The stratified rocks that occupy the basin constitute a wedge-shaped mass whose axis of greatest thickness lies close to and parallel to the east edge of the basin. The maximum thickness of stratified rocks preserved in any one part of the basin today is between 35,000 and 40,000 feet. The volume of the sedimentary rocks is approximately 510,000 cubic miles and of volcanic rocks is a few thousand cubic miles. The sedimentary rocks are predominantly Paleozoic in age, whereas the volcanic rocks are predominantly Late Precambrian.

On the basis of gross lithology the stratified rocks overlying the crystalline basement complex can be divided into nine vertically sequential units, which are designated "sequences" in this report. The boundaries between contiguous sequences do not necessarily coincide with the commonly recognized boundaries between systems or series. All sequences are grossly wedge shaped, being thickest along the eastern margin of the basin and thinnest along the western margin.

The lowermost unit the Late Precambrian stratified sequence is present only along part of the eastern margin of the basin, where it lies unconformably on the basement complex. It consists largely of volcanic tuffs and flows but contains some interbedded sedimentary rocks. The Late Precambrian sequence is overlain by the Early Cambrian clastic sequence. Where the older sequence is absent, the Early Cambrian sequence rests on the basement complex. Interbedded fine- to coarse-grained noncarbonate detrital rocks comprise the bulk of the sequence, but some volcanic and carbonate rocks are included. Next above is the Cambrian-Ordovician carbonate sequence which consists largely of limestone and dolomite. Some quartzose sandstone is present in the lower part in the western half of the basin, and much shale is present in the upper part in the southeast part of the basin. The next higher sequence is the Late Ordovician clastic sequence, which consists largely of shale, siltstone, and sandstone. Coarse-grained light-gray to red rocks are common in the sequence along the eastern side of the basin, whereas fine-grained dark-gray to black calcareous rocks are common along the west side. The Late Ordovician clastic sequence is overlain unconformably in many places by the Early Silurian clastic sequence. The latter comprises a relatively thin wedge of coarse-grained clastic rocks. Some of the most prolific oil- and gas-producing sandstones in the Appalachian basin are included. Among these are the "Clinton" sands of Ohio, the Medina Sandstones of New York and Pennsylvania, and the Keefer or "Big Six" Sandstone of West Virginia and Kentucky. Conformably overlying the Early Silurian clastic sequence is the Silurian-Devonian carbonate sequence, which consists predominantly of limestone and dolomite. It also contains a salt-bearing unit in the north-central part of the basin and a thick wedge of coarse-grained red beds in the northeastern part. The sequence is absent in much of the southern part of the basin. Large volumes of gas and much oil are obtained from some of its rocks, especially from the Oriskany Sandstone and the Huntersville Ghert. The Silurian-Devonian carbonate sequence is abruptly overlain by the Devonian clastic sequence a thick succession of interbedded shale, mudrock, siltstone, and sandstone. Colors range from predominantly purple and red in the northeastern part of the basin to predominantly dark gray and black in the southwestern part. Many rocks in the upper part contain hydrocarbons in commercial quantities. The next higher sequence is a heterogeneous succession that comprises most rocks of Mississippian age in the basin. It is composed largely of fine-grained to very coarse-grained noncalcareous clastic rocks in the northern half of the basin, and largely of carbonate rocks in the southern part. Large quantities of oil and gas are produced from the sequence. The youngest sequence consists of coarse-grained clastic rocks largely of Pennsylvanian age. In the center of the basin a relatively small volume of lithologically similar rocks of Permian age are included. The sequence has been intensively mined for coal throughout most of its extent.

The waste-disposal possibilities of the stratified rocks in the Appalachian basin are considered in terms of the following: 1) gross lithology of the sequences; 2) general lithology of the rock units composing the sequences; and 3) the structural attitudes of the sequences in different parts of the basin. The degree of exploitation of economically significant mineral* resources is considered briefly where such exploitation may affect waste-disposal possibilities. Hydrologic aspects are not in general considered. Based largely on consideration of the above geologic factors the following types of reservoirs associated with particular geologic environments offer some prospects for the disposal of radioactive waste solutions. They are: 1) artificially created cavities in thick salt beds; 2) artificially fractured thin lenticular sandstone bodies isolated in shale or mudrock sequences; 3) portions of thick noncarbonate clastic sequences possessing appreciable natural porosity and permeability; 4) thin clastic units (with natural or artificially created openings) in the plate of a thrust fault overlain by impermeable strata.

Considered in its entirety the Late Ordovician clastic sequence appears to have a greater number of favorable geologic factors for waste-disposal purposes than the others. The Early Silurian clastic sequence, the Silurian-Devonian carbonate sequence, and the Devonian clastic sequence offer fewer possibilities. The Late Precambrian stratified sequence, Early Cambrian, and the Cambrian-Ordovician carbonate sequence offer few possibilities. The Mississippian and Pennsylvanian sequences appear to be generally unsuitable.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Geologic summary of the Appalachian basin, with reference to the subsurface disposal of radioactive waste solutions
Series title Trace Elements Investigations
Series number 791
DOI 10.3133/tei791
Year Published 1961
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Description Report: 121 p.; 15 Maps; 1 Illustration
Country United States
Other Geospatial Appalachian Basin
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