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Module 5Practical Guidelines for Subsurface Stratigraphic Analysis

Part 4
Practical Guidelines for
Subsurface Stratigraphic Analysis
This section presents some practical guidelines for stratigraphic analysis
of bore hole data. As the previous sections have shown, the log and
facies characteristics of stratigraphic surfaces vary considerably within a
basin. Therefore stratigraphic analysis requires the integration of all the
available geologic data.
Stratigraphy, possibly more so than any other type of geological
analysis, requires an integrated data set and a systematic, step-by-step
Each step of the analysis must be carefully and objectively appraised
with respect to geologic reasonability. As long as a proposed geologic
scenario violates no basic geologic principles, it is reasonable. The
emphasis of sequence stratigraphic analysis is on flexibility and
pragmatism in the application of these concepts. The following section
outlines a practical and objective approach for applying sequence
stratigraphic concepts to the interpretation of subsurface data, with an
emphasis on wireline log data

Step 1
Establish the palaeogeographic setting within the basin
and the types of depositional environments.
The first and most important step in the sequence stratigraphic
interpretation of borehole data is to determine the general
palaeogeographic setting of the sections within the basin and the types
of depositional environments. This preliminary analysis must be based
on a thorough integration of all the available geological data, including
regional seismic sections, palaeontology and cores. There has been a
tendency in the past to be overly optimistic about the determination of
depositional environments with well logs alone. In many cases, this can
lead to erroneous conclusions.

Well logs by themselves cannot establish the depositional

environment. A specific type of environment is never
represented by a unique well log pattern. Core analysis is
always necessary to calibrate log interpretations.
It is also fundamental to establish the relative time span of the
stratigraphic interval to establish the scale of the sequences and the time
gaps on the sequence boundary unconformities. In many cases,
however, it is difficult to establish precise chronostratigraphy in coastal
Regional seismic sections usually indicate the general geologic and
tectonic setting of the basin and its regional physiography. Seismic

Module 5Practical Guidelines for Subsurface Stratigraphic Analysis

stratigraphy is very useful to determine the major stratigraphic events

that occur within the interval. However, in most cases, the limits of
seismic resolution will not enable the observation of the higher-frequency
events that are of importance to field scale studies. Also, the location of
onlap and downlap terminations on seismic data will generally not
represent their exact position within the basin. Seismic coastal onlap
terminations in particular can be misleading because they often occur a
considerable distance landward than they appear on the section. These
differences in scale between seismic and well log data are very
important to bear in mind at all times.

Step 2
Interpret the depositional environments and facies
stacking patterns on the well logs, based on available
regional and seismic data, palaeontology and core facies.
This is a very important step that will condition the validity of the
sequence stratigraphic interpretation. This crucial phase contains a
certain number of common pitfalls concerning the stratigraphic and
sedimentological interpretation of the log patterns.

It is of particular importance is to determine whether a

particular succession is regressive or transgressive; whether it
was deposited in an alluvial plain, coastal plain, shelf, slope or
deep basin; and to what extent sediment accumulation was
controlled by regional variations in subsidence rates.
Step 3
Subdivide the stratigraphic succession by identifying
maximum flooding surfaces and sequence boundaries.
This step consists of subdividing the sediment column into obvious
regressive-transgressive cycles and identifying maximum flooding
surfaces. These will correspond to the transition between transgressive
and regressive stacking patterns and will usually occur as maximum
shale peaks visible on the GR, resistivity and neutron logs. In shelf and
fluvial deposits, this analysis is usually relatively straightforward. When
several wells are available, the MFS can be correlated regionally. This
can help to identify the regional shale seals. It is also necessary to
analyse the section to determine if there are several scales or
hierarchies of sequences, as shown in the example on Figure 4.2.
In the example on Figure 4.1, from the US. Gulf Coast, palaeontological
data shows that the section below 1200 m was deposited in deep water
(slope to basin). Therefore, the sands most likely represent submarine
fans in the deeper parts of the slope and basin, or coastal lowstand
deposits on the upper slope. The shelf sands are grouped into cyclic
patterns and the most obvious candidates for Maximum Flooding
Surfaces are shown in Figure 4.1. Figure 4.2 illustrates several orders of
sequences and their respective MFS.

Module 5Practical Guidelines for Subsurface Stratigraphic Analysis

Do not assume that existing markers (formation tops) are

correct, and do not rely on any markers that are exclusively
lithostratigraphic (bases of sandstones). All markers should
be presumed to be diachronous until demonstrated otherwise
typically by palaeontological or seismic evidence.
Step 4
Identify and correlate smaller-scale stratigraphic cycles
This phase involves the identification of smaller-scale stratigraphic
cycles, such as individual deltaic or shoreline cycles (parasequences),
based on small-scale MFS or emergence surfaces such as coal or
organic shale beds. In fluvial basins, this step can be more difficult as
parasequences do not occur in alluvial plains. However, fluvial stacking
patterns can vary on a small scale, and by utilising coal, organic shales,
palaeosols or lacustrine beds, it is often possible to subdivide alluvial
sections into small-scale units.

Parasequences and small-scale cycles can be correlated

based on local MFS, emergence surfaces, or other suitable
stratigraphic marker beds.
Step 5
Analyse the sandstone facies, interpret their depositional
setting and correlate the sands within a parasequence.
By utilising all the available data, in particular cores, cuttings,
palaeontology, and most importantly, production and fluid data, it is
possible to interpret the type of environment for the sands within a
parasequence or fluvial unit.
Based on this sedimentological interpretation, reasonable (sometimes
best guess) sand correlations and intercommunications can be inferred.
At this phase, a coherent sedimentological and facies model must be
formulated for the sandstone reservoirs.

This phase is crucial in field development and reservoir

studies because it leads to the identification of the individual
reservoirs, or flow units, and the seals that separate them.
At this phase it is necessary to establish suitable stratigraphic sections
on the scale of the individual parasequences datumed on a
palaeohorizontal stratigraphic marker, located as close as possible and
above the reservoirs.

Step 6

Module 5Practical Guidelines for Subsurface Stratigraphic Analysis

Pick the most plausible location for the sequence

Sequence boundaries will occur either at the point of maximum
regression and sand thickness within a regressive-transgressive cycle, or
at the base of a sudden influx of thick and massive sand such as at the
base of incised valley-fills or lowstand coastal deposits (Fig. 4.3). This
latter criteria is particularly valid when the sand overlies thick marine
shales. As discussed in the previous sections, it is commonly difficult at
best to locate sequence boundaries when they occur within a sandy
interval and it is useful to integrate this phase of the study with seismic
stratigraphy. It is also generally necessary to integrate this analysis with
the interpretation of the systems tract as the location of the sequence
boundary will vary depending on the systems tracts and the
palaeogeography. Thus, a sequence boundary will be at the base of an
upward-coarsening section in the case of lowstand coastal deposits, and
at the top of the coarsening-upward section in the case of highstand
deposits (Fig. 4.3).
In most cases, certain sequence boundaries will be overlooked,
particularly in the more sand-prone proximal parts of a basin where
several sequence boundaries can amalgamate. Thus, the interpretation
of the sequence boundaries will have to be modified and adjusted as
further data and wells become available. However, even a preliminary
interpretation furnishes a working hypothesis and a geological framework
for calibration with seismic sections and to guide future studies.
Once the key surfaces have been determined in the well, it is very useful
to calibrate them on regional seismic sections and trace them up or down
dip regionally in order to define zones of potential reservoir sands and
plays in other parts of the basin such as incised valleys, lowstand
shoreline deposits, or submarine fans. When several wells are available,
it is usually possible to regionally correlate the sequence boundaries,
which will appear as sand-prone intervals.

Step 7
Identify the systems tracts.
After picking the MFS and SB, the stacking patterns and depositional
environments must be analysed to identify the systems tracts. Base this
identification on geological reasoning, with the realisation that log
patterns alone cannot determine the type of deposit. The interpretation of
the systems tracts will always be accompanied by a certain amount of
uncertainty, which can only be cleared up when more data is available.
Upward-coarsening regressive intervals on the shelf can represent either
a lowstand systems tract (prograding lowstand coastal deposits) or a
highstand systems tract (prograding highstand coastal deposits). It is
frequently difficult to distinguish between the two. In more distal shelf
settings, the highstand systems tracts are commonly shale-prone,

Module 5Practical Guidelines for Subsurface Stratigraphic Analysis

whereas the lowstand systems tracts are sandier and coarsening-upward

(cf1400 m in Fig. 4.1). In more proximal shelf settings the high stand
systems tract is sandier and the lowstand deposits are represented by
channel-like incised valley fills, overlying the upward-coarsening sandy
coastal and deltaic parasequences of the highstand systems tract.
Upward-thinning and fining transgressive intervals on the shelf will
always represent the transgressive systems tract. The contact between
the lowstand systems tract and the transgressive systems tract,
however, will be difficult to locate on well logs. It can sometimes be
located at the first major shale or carbonate break at the base of an
upward-fining transgressive section.

Step 8
If necessary, calibrate with the global eustatic chart.
Once the SB and depositional sequences are located, they can be
calibrated with the global eustatic chart (Fig. 4.1). Strictly speaking,
however, this phase is not always necessary and can even be academic,
because sequence stratigraphy can be utilised to analyse and predict
regional stratal patterns without the calibration with global events. Also,
in many cases, certain sequence boundaries will not be correlatable with
the global chart, either because they were formed by tectonic processes,
or by higher order eustatic cycles. When calibrating sequence
boundaries with the global chart, the precautions outlined below must be

Palaeontological age dating must be used to verify the ages of the

SB, as several eustatic falls can be combined within a single
sequence boundary.
It is hazardous to utilise the global chart as a tool for dating the key
surfaces within an interval.
Palaeontology must be utilised to furnish the time scale of the
sequences and the rates of sediment accumulation. In a rapidly
subsiding basin, higher-order eustatic cycles can be preserved in the
form of small-scale depositional sequences.
There is always the possibility of purely tectonically-formed
sequence boundaries in an active tectonic setting.

Step 9
Establish meaningful facies and reservoir maps.
When the sandstones have been correlated within a parasequence or
genetic interval, several types of facies and reservoir maps can be
established for each chronostratigraphically meaningful interval.
Facies maps: enable facies to be calibrated with reservoir properties.
They should draw on data from analogue studies to guide drawing the
likely distribution of facies between well control. They should be kept as

Module 5Practical Guidelines for Subsurface Stratigraphic Analysis

simple as possible, and should make common sense (e.g. cannot have
rivers flowing uphill)
Isopach maps: demonstrate gross depositional patterns for all
sediments in the chronostratigraphically meaningful interval. Note that it
is not always the case that the thicker areas are proximal to the sediment
source. Isopachs reflect subsidence, sediment supply and erosional
processes that can vary over a basin, although at the reservoir scale
these may have more meaning (e.g. the main locus of deltas or fans,
lobe switching etc.).
Sand thickness and net/gross maps: show the distribution of sand in
cumulative net thickness or percentage of sand within an interval
respectively, and should be overlain on the facies and isopach maps
before being interpreted. You may choose different log-based cut-offs,
and produce clean sand versus silty sand maps. Try various ratio
maps (sand percent squared or cubed divided by isopach thickness) to
test whether sand is preferentially distributed in zones of optimum
thickness. For example, in many deltas, the thickest isopachs commonly
occur over the head of passes where most of the sand is deposited in
stacked mouth bars (Coleman & Wright, 1975).
Reservoir Property maps: help explain or predict production anomalies
within a field. These are porosity, permeability, water saturation maps
that lie within the chronostratigraphic interval of interest. Note that the
vertical stacking and amalgamation of maps from several intervals may
be combined to reflect larger scale flow units within the reservoir, and
may help guide the construction of reservoir models. It may be useful to
plot the cumulative production from the reservoir for the interval as a pie
diagram, although commonly several intervals will need to be combined
to reflect the production from several co-mingled horizons.


Fig. 4.1 General methodology for sequence stratigraphic analysis of well logs. A final
step not shown is to correlate regional wells based on MFSs.

Examples of sequence boundaries and maximum

flooding surfaces in coastal and shelf deposits. The
MFS is easier to identify on the well logs than the
SBs. The sections are characterized by shelf,
coastal, and fluvial deposits: the SB is observed
within the most sand-prone interval. The MFS
coincides with the highest GR shale peaks at the
base of regressive sections and can be located with
precision on the logs.

Wireline Gamma Ray log from a well drilled on

the Gulf of Mexico shelf. Low, medium, and
high frequency (i.e. 1st, 2nd, and 3rd order)
maximum flooding surfaces and sequence
boundaries are identified.

Fig. 4.2

Fig. 4.3 Example of sequence boundaries in fluvial and coastal

deposits. The upper SB occurs at the base of a fluvial channel
incising coastal plain sediments: the contact between the
lowstand fluvial deposits and the highstand coastal plain channelfills is difficult to locate. In the bottom SB, no lowstand deposits
are observed because the section is on an interfluve outside of
the incised valley. The SB is picked at the junction between the
coarsening-up regressive section (i.e. the Highstand Systems
Tract) and the upward-fining Transgressive Systems Tract.