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An Integrated View of the Petrology, Sedimentology, and Sequence Stratigraphy


of the Wolfcamp Formation, Delaware Basin, Texas

Conference Paper · July 2018


DOI: 10.15530/urtec-2018-2901513

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URTeC: 2901513

An Integrated View of the Petrology, Sedimentology, and Sequence


Stratigraphy of the Wolfcamp Formation, Delaware Basin, Texas
Michelle Thompson*1, Patricio Desjardins2, Jenn Pickering1, Brian Driskill2; 1. Shell
International Exploration & Production Company, 2. Shell Exploration & Production
Company.
Copyright 2018, Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC) DOI 10.15530/urtec-2018-2901513

This paper was prepared for presentation at the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference held in Houston, Texas, USA, 23-25 July 2018.

The URTeC Technical Program Committee accepted this presentation on the basis of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). The contents of this paper
have not been reviewed by URTeC and URTeC does not warrant the accuracy, reliability, or timeliness of any information herein. All information is the responsibility of, and, is
subject to corrections by the author(s). Any person or entity that relies on any information obtained from this paper does so at their own risk. The information herein does not
necessarily reflect any position of URTeC. Any reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper by anyone other than the author without the written consent of URTeC
is prohibited.

Abstract

This study was conducted in 2016-2017 to advance the understanding of how small-scale elements, such as texture,
composition, pore-types, and diagenesis affect the rock properties of the Wolfcamp Formation. The objectives of this
study were to define key rock types from thin section (petrofacies) and core (lithofacies). These facies schemes were
then used to identify predictable, cyclic packages in a sequence stratigraphic framework with the goal to better
understand factors controlling reservoir quality and the distribution in the Wolfcamp.

The Wolfcamp A and B have been examined in detail in two proprietary cores from the central part of the Delaware
Basin. Detailed sedimentological and petrographic techniques were employed to document the different facies types
and bed boundaries, their characteristics, and associated rock properties to characterize the vertical changes in facies
and reservoir properties. The robustness of the sequence stratigraphic framework was enhanced with seismic,
biostratigraphic, geochemical, and sedimentological data from additional available cores from Reeves, Loving, and
Ward Counties in Texas.

Facies are stacked in predictive, repetitive packages that are linked to their position within a sequence stratigraphic
framework. Four distinct facies associations were identified: debrite, fine-grained turbidite, calciturbidite, and distal
turbidite/hemipelagic. Debrites occur above sequence boundaries and represent episodic collapse of the adjacent
carbonate platform during a rise in relative sea level. Thinly bedded, fine-grained turbidites are often interbedded with
replacive microcrystalline dolomite and were adeposited during interpreted low stands in relative sea level. The
frequency of calciturbidites increases during interpreted high stands in relative sea level when carbonate material from
the adjacent platform is shed into the basin. Basinal turbidites/hemipelagic mudstones represent the most distal, muddy
tails of turbidites where silty mudstones fine-upward into hemipelagic, organic-rich, siliceous mudstones. Distal
turbidites and hemipelagic mudstones have the best reservoir quality and are thickest and more abundant during
maximum flooding.

The sequence stratigraphic approach improves the lateral and vertical predictability of sweet spots and the zones/areas
to stay away from, which ultimately drives appraisal and development decisions. Integrating our understanding of the
cyclic nature of the Wolfcamp with the calibrated e-facies derived from logs in a stratigraphic framework allows for
quick high-grading of acreage away from current control points, support development planning, and new acreage
evaluations.

Introduction

Horizontal drilling, more effective completions, and low cost per barrel to produce are the driving forces for the surge
in Wolfcamp Formation production in the Delaware Basin in recent years (Izadi, 2018). However, engineering
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solutions and lower costs alone are not enough to guarantee a profitable project. The selection of best areas and landing
zones are widely accepted by operators today as key decisions that can enable high well performance and the ultimate
hydrocarbon recovery. To increase the quality of these decisions, we take a multidisciplinary approach with a strong
foundation built on log-to-core calibration, which starts by integration of sedimentological and petrographic data
within a sequence stratigraphic framework. Cores provide important information about rock mineralogy, texture,
porosity, saturation and geomechanical properties. Sedimentological and sequence stratigraphic studies enables not
only a detailed reservoir characterization but also an interpretation of the evolution of sedimentary environments to
aid prediction of lateral facies and reservoir quality variability. The use of sedimentological and stratigraphic
principles aid in the delineation of fine-grained reservoir bodies with potential high bulk volume hydrocarbons,
allowing identification and prediction of ‘best areas’ for targeting horizontal wells.

Methods

The Wolfcamp A and B (Figure 1) were studied in two proprietary cores from the central part of the Delaware Basin
(Figure 2). Cores were statistically sampled every 4-5 feet for porosity and permeability (crushed), bulk and grain
density, saturations, geochemistry, X-ray diffraction, and petrography. Each core was described at centimeter to
decimeter scale to document lithology, grain size, grain composition, fabric, sedimentary features, bed boundaries,
bed thickness, Likewise, thin sections with similar characteristics were grouped together into a petrofacies.

The regional stratigraphic framework was constructed using bedding, facies stacking patterns, lithologies, and rock
properties from additional available cores and well logs using sequence stratigraphic concepts from Bohacs and Lazar
(2010), Emery and Myers (2009), Embry et al. (2002), Catuneanu et al. (2009) and Abreu et al. (2014). Data from
other disciplines was utilized to enhance and validate the sequence stratigraphic framework.

Figure 1. Stratigraphic nomenclature for the Wolfcamp Formation in the Delaware Basin (IHS, 2017).
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Figure 2. Location of the Permian Basin with the approximate location (yellow star) of the two studied cores. Modified
from Wickard, et al. (2016).

Results

The Wolfcamp Formation is very heterogeneous and a solid sedimentological foundation supported by petrographic
calibration is key to deciphering rock properties.

Facies

Eight lithofacies and thirteen petrofacies are the building blocks of this study. This detailed breakout of lithofacies
and petrofacies was necessary to interpret depositional environments and to ultimately understand how the
litho/petrofacies and their associated rock properties change with deposition. Figure 3 summarizes the eight lithofacies
(LF) and the distribution of petrofacies (PF) within each lithofacies. Given the inherent heterogeneity of the Wolfcamp
Formation, there is a reasonable correlation between the lithofacies and petrofacies.
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Figure 3. Comparison of lithofacies (LF) and petrofacies (PF). There is a reasonably well correlation of petrofacies
to lithofacies except for LF 1. The dark coloring of LF1 in core masks the subtle changes that are identified in thin
section.

Cyclicity

It was found that the litho/petrofacies can be arranged into four different cyclic packages that are related to the history
of the basin infill (Figure 4). Distal turbidite/hemipelagic cycles document the fine-grained tails of distal turbidites
and background hemipelagic sedimentation (Figure 4A). The base of each cycle is represented by slightly higher
energy conditions associated with the distal turbidites or less commonly a thin bed of fine-grained calcarenites.
Laminated, silty mudstones are overlain by homogenous silty mudstones with decreasing silt abundance upward.
Laminated, organic-rich mudstones (pelagic?) with very little silt occasionally cap these cycles in the lower Wolfcamp
B (Sequence 1, Figure 5). Cycles typically have abundant detrital quartz and/or siliceous skeletal fragments; such as,
radiolarians, sponge spicules, agglutinated forams, etc. that may be locally replaced with carbonate. Carbonate content
is commonly very low unless there is a thin bed of calcarenite at the base of the cycle. These cycles are the thickest at
maximum flooding. Clay content, porosity, and water saturation are relatively consistent unless the cycle is capped
by the pelagic (?) mudstones which have a slightly higher clay content and porosity.

Fine-grained turbidite cycles (Figure 4B) reflect the influx of fine-grained turbidites into the basin. The base of each
cycle is comprised of a relatively thick package of thin, alternating dark-to-light-colored clay laminations. A thin, bed
of diagenetic dolostone, that is commonly greenish in color, occurs at the top of these fine-grained turbidite flows. A
thin bed of siliceous, hemipelagic mudstones cap this cycle indicating a return to background sedimentation. The
lighter-colored portions of these cycles typically have very low total organic carbon (TOC) and very high clay content,
porosities, and water saturations. There is a dramatic increase in TOC and decrease in clay content, porosity, and water
saturation in the overlying, darker-colored siliceous mudstones.

Debrite cycles (Figure 4C) represent collapse of the adjacent carbonate platform. The base of these cycles is commonly
scoured and comprised of varying abundances of large lime mudstone to grainstone rock fragments and abraded
fragments of fusulinid foraminifers, sponge spicules, bivalves, brachiopods, echinoderms, and bryozoans in a
mudstone matrix. Very little carbonate (stain in thin section) is observed within the mudstone matrix. The debrite is
abruptly overlain by dark-colored, siliceous mudstones that indicate a return to background sedimentation. Debrites
have low TOC, low clay content, low porosity, and low water saturation. There is a marked increase in TOC, clay
content, porosity, and water saturations at the tops of these cycles during background sedimentation.
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Calciturbidite cycles (Figure 4D) were deposited during periods when carbonate material from the adjacent platform
is being brought into the basin. Cycle bases are typically erosional. A coarse-grained skeletal calcirudite occurs at the
base of most cycles and fines-upward into a skeletal fragment-rich marlstone to argillaceous limestone. The influx of
carbonate material is the most abundant in the Wolfcamp A. The calcite content of these two facies is very high and
the clay content is very low. The marlstone to argillaceous limestone grade upward into siliceous mudstones deposited
during background sedimentation. Porosity and water saturation tend to be low when carbonate content is high.

Figure 4. Idealized cycles observed in this study of the Wolfcamp Formation with integration of data from core
descriptions, petrographic analysis, scanning electron microscope (SEM) imaging, and rock properties. A) Distal
turbidite/hemipelagic cycle. B) Fine-grained turbidite cycle. C) Debrite cycle. D) Calci-turbidite cycle.

Sequence Stratigraphy

A sequence stratigraphic framework forms the backbone for the integration of datasets and the understanding of how
Wolfcamp rock properties change both geographically and through time to drive exploration and development
decisions. Defining a sequence stratigraphic framework in distal, fine-grained marine rocks is often difficult because
changes in accommodation space are subtle and not as obvious as the nearshore and paralic realms (Bohacs and
Schwalbach, 1992). The following assumptions were used to define our sequence stratigraphic framework:

• Fine-grained turbidites occur near sequence boundaries in the Wolfcamp B.


• Debrites tend to occur above the sequence boundary that separates the Wolfcamp A and B, which represents
the initial flooding and collapse of the adjacent carbonate margin.
• Distal turbidites/hemipelagics tend to have minimal carbonate input and occur at a higher frequency near
maximum flooding.
• Calciturbidites represent material being washed from the carbonate platform during the Wolfcamp A. An
increase in the frequency of calciturbidites occur during highstand systems tracts (HST, Mazzullo, 1998;
Montgomery, 1996; Schlager et al., 1994).

Using these assumptions at a regional scale in the central Delaware Basin, the Middle Wolfcamp A through the
Wolfcamp B can be subdivided into at least 5 sequences (Figure 5). Keep in mind that relative sea level may be higher
or lower during deposition of some sequences when compared to others. Per the assumptions above, Fine-grained
turbidites occur near the sequence boundaries at the top of Sequences 2, 3, and 4 in the two studied cores. Debrites
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occur in the TST of Sequences 2 and 5. Debrites only occur in these two sequences because sea level was relatively
lower than Sequences 1, 3, and 4. Thin, relatively infrequent calciturbidites occur in the TST and HST of most
Sequences. Sequence 5 has the highest frequency of calciturbidites, which are related to a much higher relative sea
level. Siliceous mudstones deposited as distal turbidites/hemipelagics have the best reservoir and source rock quality.
Nearly all cycles are capped with siliceous mudstone; however, these mudstone cycles occur with higher frequency
and are better developed during maximum flooding when extrabasinal input is at its lowest levels.

Figure 5. Petrofacies correlation to the Wolfcamp Formation transgressive (green triangles) and regressive (red
triangles) sequences. Sequence boundaries (SB) delineate the top of each sequence. Maximum flooding surfaces
(MFS) indicate the highest relative sea level during that sequence.

Discussion

The Delaware basin infill history is fairly complex and does not always conform to processes documented in literature,
such as an increase in biogenic silica at maximum flooding and carbonate highstand shedding. Driskill et al. (2018)
hints at this in their Bone Spring and Upper Wolfcamp chemostratigraphy study. Figure 5 illustrates a simplistic
overview of the cyclic nature of the petrofacies observed in the two studied cores. There is a distinct change in the
petrofacies present from Sequence 2 in the basal Wolfcamp B through Sequence 5 in the Wolfcamp A.

Quartz-rich mudstones (petrofacies M3 through M7) have the best reservoir and source rock potential (Figure 4). The
differences between these petrofacies is biogenic quartz (petrofacies M3 & M4) vs. detrital quartz (petrofacies M5-
M7) and types of sedimentary structures observed in thin section. Radiolarians, sponge spicules, and agglutinated
forams contribute to the biogenic silica documented in thin section in petrofacies M3 and M4. Biogenic silica is more
common at sequence boundaries and detrital quartz at maximum flooding. These petrofacies often form a thin cap
when they are associated with fine-grained turbidite, debrite, and calciturbidite cycles. Quartz-rich mudstone facies
are thickest in the distal turbidite/hemipelagic cycles at maximum flooding.

Debrites (petrofacies M1) occur only at Sequence Boundaries 1 and 4, which are fairly regional events of platform
collapse that can be traced across the deep basin. Debrites consist of large fragments of material derived from the
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adjacent platform consisting of carbonate rock fragments (lime mudstone through grainstone) and large, abraded
fusulinid foraminifera in a mudstone matrix. Fragments of fusulinids, echinoderms, sponge spicules, brachiopods,
bivalves, bryozoans, and algae. Carbonate rock fragments with ooids are minor. Debrites are overlain by a thin cap of
quartz-rich mudstones, signifying a return to hemipelagic conditions.

Thin bedded, clay-rich petrofacies (M9-M11, C1) occur at Sequence Boundaries 2, 3, and 4 and comprise the bulk of
the fine-grained turbidite cycles. Water saturations and porosities are very high and TOC is very low indicating poor
reservoir and source rock potential.

Carbonate material (petrofacies C3-C4 and M2) is derived from the adjacent platform and transported into the deep
basin as calciturbidites. The apparent lack of calciturbidites in the Wolfcamp B (Figure 5) is because they tend to be
very thin and are under-sampled. In Sequence 5 (Wolfcamp A), there is a significant shift in carbonate material being
brought into the deep basin as both debrites (shelf collapse) and calciturbidites. This shift in carbonate input may be
related to a higher than usual relative sea level, a change in climate, or a combination of both.

Conclusions

This study on the Wolfcamp A and B defined the key rock types in both core and thin section and identified predictable,
cyclic packages tied to rock properties in a sequence stratigraphic framework. The frequency and thickness of these
cycles are related to the environmental and climatic conditions during deposition, which are ultimately linked to
changes in interpreted relative sea level. Four distinct cyclic packages were recognized: distal turbidites/hemipelagic,
fine-grained turbidites, debrites, and calciturbidites. Reservoir and source rock potential is highest in the dark-colored,
quartz-rich mudstone facies, which is a relatively thin component (<2 feet) of the fine-grained turbidite, debrite, and
calciturbidite cycles. Distal turbidite/hemipelagic cycles are comprised almost entirely of dark-colored, quartz-rich
mudstones that are at their thickest (6-10 feet) at maximum flooding when very little extrabasinal carbonate being
deposited in the deep basin.

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Shell Exploration and Production Company and Brice Peterson for continued support of
this project and permission to present this work.

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