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Fault-Zone Seals in Siliciclastic Strata of the Columbus

Basin, Offshore Trinidad1

Richard G. Gibson2

ABSTRACT against itself, column heights are cross-fault spill-

point limited and can be analyzed using fault-plane
This study combines observations from outcrop sections combined with mapping of shale-smear
and drill core with an analysis of the hydrocarbon continuity. These traps are likely to preferentially
distribution in two mature oil and gas fields to doc- spill high-density hydrocarbons once trap capacity
ument the factors controlling the existence of fault is reached. In contrast, traps bounded by spatially
seals in the Tertiary sandstone-shale sequence of continuous shale smears probably leak through the
the Columbus Basin. Juxtaposition of reservoir pore network of the fault-zone material at the top
sandstones against shale intervals across normal of the trap, thus favoring preferential movement of
faults cannot explain the oil and gas distribution in low-density hydrocarbons in a two-phase system.
this area, indicating that fault zones serve as the lat- Maximum column height estimates for such traps
eral seals for these hydrocarbon accumulations. can be calculated using capillary pressure relation-
The fault-zone seals for the largest hydrocarbon ships. Hydrocarbon migration through stratigraphic
columns (50–200 m) consist of shale smears sections containing fault-sealed traps of these two
formed by ductile deformation of shale beds during types may result in geochemical fractionation and
fault slip. Empirical evidence suggests that these phase segregation, both of which are observed in
zones are spatially continuous only where the shale the Columbus Basin fields.
content of the section displaced along a fault
exceeds 25% (shale smear factor ≤4). Pore-throat
radii of these shale-smear fault zones, calculated INTRODUCTION
from observed column heights, are in the 0.05–1
µm range, decreasing exponentially with depth. The role of faults in the entrapment of hydrocar-
Fault segments that do not meet the criteria for bons within siliciclastic stratigraphic sequences is a
development of a shale smear appear to be trans- matter of considerable importance in both explo-
missible or can seal only small columns (<20 m). ration for new petroleum fields and exploitation of
Such poorly sealing fault segments are comprised existing ones. This paper contains an analysis of
primarily of cataclastically deformed sandstone, fault seals in two oil and gas fields within Tertiary
which, based on laboratory test data, does not have siliciclastic strata of offshore Trinidad. The aims of
small enough pore throats to serve as high-capacity this study were to (1) determine the mechanisms
capillary seals in this area. responsible for forming these seals, (2) evaluate the
Two different modes of fault-sealed trap leakage pattern of fault seals to understand their existence
during hydrocarbon migration can be defined. as a function of depth, stratigraphy, and fault dis-
Where shale smears are discontinuous, such as placement magnitude, and (3) quantify their fluid-
where a sandstone body is partially juxtaposed flow properties. The discussion in this paper deals
with the ability of faults to act as lateral seals on the
time frame associated with the migration and
entrapment of hydrocarbons. Sealing over the
©Copyright 1994. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All
rights reserved.
shorter time scale associated with production is
1Manuscript received December 2, 1993; revised manuscript received not considered.
May 2, 1994; final acceptance May 9, 1994.
2Amoco Production Research, P. O. Box 3385, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74102.
Assistance in data collection was provided by numerous Amoco people,
especially J. Lantz, F. Sobol, P. Heppard, N. Ali, and R. Tucker. The analysis GEOLOGIC SETTING
presented in this paper would not have been possible without using their
interpretations as a starting point. Flow tests on samples discussed in the
paper were conducted at Core Laboratories, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Core The oil and gas fields considered in this paper
photographs were taken by Gene Kullmann. I thank Amoco Production are located in the Columbus Basin, offshore of the
Company and Amoco Trinidad Oil Company for permission to publish this
paper. Thorough reviews by S. J. Haggerty, M. W. Downey, E. D. Pittman, J. southeastern corner of the island of Trinidad in the
Bredehoeft, and J. Schweitzer helped to significantly improve the manuscript. southern Caribbean Sea (Figure 1). On a regional

1372 AAPG Bulletin, V. 78, No. 9 (September 1994), P. 1372–1385.

Gibson 1373

63°W 61°W
flat-lying, lower Holocene transgressive deposits.
Caribbean Sea 10 MI Organic maturity analysis, assuming either upper
Miocene (Leonard, 1983) or Upper Cretaceous (R.
10 KM Leonard, 1990, personal communication) hydrocar-
below bon source rocks, indicates peak oil generation and
migration into preexisting traps during the middle
Pleistocene. Active hydrocarbon seepage on the sea
Venezuela floor above the fields is occurring today (P. Hep-
pard, 1990, personal communication).

PT. Overview of Previous Work

TEAK Previous work on faulting in siliciclastic sedi-

mentary sections has focused on two different
aspects: (1) the development of shale (or clay)
smears by ductile behavior of shale beds (Weber et
al., 1978; Smith, 1980; Bouvier et al., 1989; Lindsay
GALEOTA et al., 1993) and (2) cataclastic deformation of
PT. POUI porous sandstones (Engelder, 1974; Aydin, 1978;
Pittman, 1981; Jamison and Stearns, 1982; Nelson,
1985; Underhill and Woodcock, 1987; Antonellini
and Aydin, 1994). Cataclasis in high-porosity sand-
stones has been shown to reduce porosity, perme-
ability, and pore-throat size relative to the unde-
Figure 1—Index map of southeastern Trinidad (shaded)
and Columbus Basin showing petroleum fields (black),
formed rock (Aydin, 1978; Pittman, 1981; Nelson,
major normal faults (thick lines), and anticlines (thin 1985; Antonellini and Aydin, 1994). Although this
lines with arrows). Regional geographic setting of area process has been suggested as potential mecha-
is shown in the inset. nism for forming fault seals in quartzose sandstone
reservoirs (e.g., Antonellini and Aydin, 1994), actu-
al hydrocarbon field examples have not been pre-
scale, the Columbus Basin is associated with Shale smears were first described by Weber et al.
oblique tectonic convergence along the Carib- (1978) along exposed growth faults in Germany,
bean–South American plate boundary (e.g., Speed, and since have been described in outcrop from bet-
1985). The Tertiary stratigraphic section in the ter lithified sandstone-shale sequences (Lindsay et
basin is an upper Miocene to Pleistocene, shallow- al., 1993). Shale smears form by incorporation and
to nonmarine, deltaic sequence (Michelson, 1976; attenuation of shale beds into the developing fault
Leonard, 1983) that has a total thickness in excess zone, resulting in preservation of a thin argilla-
of 5200 m and overlies Cretaceous source rocks. ceous veneer along a truncated sandstone bed
Rock types include friable to indurated, fine- to between the hanging wall and footwall cutoff of
very fine grained quartz and sublithic arenites inter- the source shale bed (Lindsay et al., 1993). During
calated with silty shales. Individual sandstone units offset of a single shale bed, the layer is progressive-
range up to 140 m thick, but are typically much ly attenuated and the thickness of the resulting
thinner. shale smear decreases with increasing fault dis-
Teak and Poui fields are, respectively, the largest placement. Thus, spatial continuity of the shale
and third largest offshore fields in this area and have smears is thought to be related to a ratio of shale
produced in excess of 630 MMBO and 1500 bcf thickness and fault displacement (Bouvier et al.,
of gas to date. They occur along an east-northeast– 1989; Lindsay et al., 1993). If such zones constitute
trending anticlinal ridge where it is cut by moder- the fault seals for hydrocarbon accumulations,
ately dipping, northwest-striking normal and nor- there would likely be a relationship between seal
mal-oblique faults (Figure 1). Based on stratigraphic presence, fault displacement, and the sandstone/
thickness variations across some faults, Leonard shale ratio of the faulted stratigraphic section. Such
(1983) concluded that deformation and trap forma- relationships have been documented by previous
tion occurred during the late Pliocene and Pleis- workers in several different areas (Weber, 1987;
tocene. The deformed sediments are overlain by Bouvier et al., 1989; Knott, 1993).
1374 Fault-Zone Seals, Columbus Basin

laminated sandstone-shale intervals (Figure 3a) to

complex zones up to several meters thick. The
argillaceous material comprising the fault zones is
characterized by anastomosing, polished, and stri-
ated surfaces that dissect it into aligned, lenticular
fragments up to several centimeters long. Both
standard and scanning electron microscopy show
that these surfaces are thin zones (tens to hundreds
of micrometers) of preferential phyllosilicate align-
ment (Figure 3b) similar to slip surfaces produced
during deformation of poorly consolidated, clay-
rich materials by intragranular sliding (Knipe, 1986;
Maltman, 1987). No indication of finite dilation
A (e.g., mineral-filled fractures) is evident in the
shale-smear materials. Ellipsoidal blocks and dis-
continuous lenses of cataclastically deformed sand-
stone occur commonly within the shale smears
(Figure 3b), particularly in broad zones of distribut-
ed deformation.
Cataclastic sandstone occurs in close proximity
(within approximately 5 m in outcrop) to macro-
scopic faults and may be associated with shale
B smears. The deformation features consist of either
closely spaced, subparallel cataclastic zones
(“deformation bands” of Aydin, 1978) or intersect-
ing arrays that isolate polygonal blocks of porous
sandstone (Figure 3c). Discrete, well-striated slip
surfaces, such as those bounding zones of deforma-
tion bands in sandstones of the Colorado Plateau
sandstone (Aydin and Johnson, 1978; Antonellini and Aydin,
1994), were not observed along these faults. Petro-
shale graphic examination shows that cataclasis was
compactive, reducing the grain size, porosity, and
cataclastic pore size from that of the original sandstone (Fig-
zones ure 3d). Cataclastic sandstone is the only deforma-
tion product present where no shale beds were dis-
shale smear placed along a particular fault segment (e.g.,
between A and B in Figure 2).

Figure 2—Schematic illustration, based on outcrop and FAULT SEALS IN TEAK AND POUI FIELDS
core observations, showing the character of fault zones
in siliciclastic strata. Note that the portion of the fault The data used in the fault-seal analysis were
zone between levels A and B consists entirely of cata- derived largely from maps, constructed by P. Hep-
clastic sandstone. pard, F. Sobol, and J. Lantz at Amoco, of each Teak
and Poui reservoir horizon. These maps are based
Observations from the Columbus Basin on data from more than 150 wells, seismic interpre-
tation, and production performance since the mid-
Faults typical of those found in the Columbus 1970s. This data set shows that Teak and Poui fields
Basin sediments were examined in the limited avail- are stratigraphically and structurally similar; there-
able drill core from the offshore oil and gas fields fore, I include only a partial map of one reservoir
and in outcrops of similar strata along the eastern horizon and a cross section of Poui field (Figure 4).
coast of Trinidad (between Radix Point and Galeota Maps and cross sections for Teak field can be found
Point, Figure 1). Both cataclastically deformed sand- in Lantz and Ali (1990) and are not reproduced in
stone and shale smears were found and have a distri- this paper.
bution similar to that shown schematically in Figure 2.
Shale smears exist only along portions of faults Reservoir-Seal-Trap Relationships
past which shale beds have been displaced. The
shale smears range in scale from millimeter- or cen- Numerous reservoir horizons (17 in Teak,
timeter-thick argillaceous partings derived from approximately 30 in Poui) exist within the fields,
Gibson 1375

Figure 3—Physical features of fault zones in Tertiary sediments of the Columbus Basin. (a) Photograph showing
shale smear (S) along a small-displacement fault in split core, Teak A-8xx well, 1755 m depth. Note the presence of
cataclastic zones (C) in the sandstone adjacent to the shale smear. (b) Photomicrograph of shale smear showing
upper left portion in crossed-polarized light and lower right in plane light. Slip surfaces comprised of aligned phyl-
losilicates appear as anastomosing dark bands (S) in upper left. Cataclastically deformed sandstone lenses (C) are
evident in the lower right, where they are offset in an apparent left-lateral sense across a slip surface similar to
those in the upper left. Irregular fractures (F) cutting the thin section were induced during handling. Sample is
from Teak A-11 well, 1182 m measured depth. (c) Photograph of an area of subparallel cataclastic zones (dark fea-
tures) cutting bedding (vertical in photo) in sandstone core from Teak E-9xxxx well, 3051 m measured depth. Dark
color of cataclastic zones is due to partial oil saturation. (d) Plane-light photomicrograph showing contrast between
high-porosity sandstone (left) and cataclastic zone (right), Offshore Point Radix 13 well, 3780 m measured depth.

and each horizon is dissected by a myriad of nor- mulations with different hydrocarbon-water con-
mal faults (Figure 4). The hydrocarbon-bearing tacts. Normal f luid pressures exist to depths of
sandstones, which belong to the Pliocene Gros approximately 2400–2800 m in Poui and 3300–
Morne, Mayaro, and Palmiste formations, are lateral- 4000 m in Teak.
ly continuous and maintain nearly constant thick- Faulting within the fields is complex, involving
ness within each of the fields, except for 10–20% intersecting northeast- and southwest-dipping nor-
thickening on the downthrown side of one fault mal faults (Figure 4b). Traps in the fields typically
within Teak field (Lantz and Ali, 1990). High-porosi- consist of two- or three-way dip closure against
ty sandstones (φ = 10–35%, koil ≤900 md) comprise moderately dipping faults that strike nearly orthog-
approximately 60% of the productive stratigraphic onal to the axis of an anticlinal ridge (Figure 4a).
interval in Teak field (Lantz and Ali, 1990) and Most of the largest oil and gas accumulations occur
70–75% in Poui field. Shaly intervals, ranging from in the footwall of the trap-bounding fault. Struc-
approximately 10 to 100 m thick, serve as top seals tural relief on the anticline is large enough that the
and separate vertically stacked hydrocarbon accu- hydrocarbon columns in the fields do not reach the
1376 Fault-Zone Seals, Columbus Basin

Figure 4—Structure of Poui field showing distribu-

tion of oil (black) and gas (stippled). (a) Contour a N 2000 ft
map of 14-0 sandstone in central part of field. Light 500 m
lines are contours (interval = 200 ft [61 m]), heavy
lines are fault traces, and dashed line indicates posi-
tion of cross section. (b) Cross section along line

indicated in (a). Small numbers identify certain

reservoir intervals and Y, YZ, and D faults are

labeled for reference in text and figures. Map and
cross section were constructed by F. Sobol and P. -5500'

D fau





00 -5

-5700' -5
-5500' 0'

-5700' 00'

b West
A W. Tourmaline-1
Platform E.
B Poui-2
0m Holocene 0'

7.0 1000'
500m 2.0
2.0 7.0
2.0 10.0 10.0
2.0 3000'
7.0 8.0
1500m 10.0 t 14.0 5000'
7.0 7.0 10.0 ul14.0
fa Df



lt 6000'

2000m 14.0
14.0 17.2

17.2 8000'
14.0 17.2 17.2

20.0 9000'

potential synclinal spillpoints on either the north- simply by the position of juxtaposed wet sand-
west or southeast sides of the structure. The main stones (Figure 5). Similar relationships have been
oil-bearing portions of both fields are located in the documented by wells that penetrate wet sandstone
footwall of large-displacement faults, such as the in fault juxtaposition above oil-bearing sandstone
Poui D and Y faults (Figure 4b) and the Teak F fault (e.g., Lantz and Ali, 1990). These observations indi-
(Lantz and Ali, 1990). Rollover into these large-dis- cate that the fault seals are not the product of strati-
placement normal faults produced broad hanging- graphic juxtaposition, but probably result from
wall anticlines that trap significant gas accumula- deformational processes within fault zones like
tions northeast of Teak and both northeast and those described in the previous section.
southwest of Poui.
The most striking feature of the hydrocarbon dis-
tribution in Teak and Poui fields is the lack of a Analysis of Hydrocarbon Distribution
direct relationship between the presence of a seal-
ing fault and the juxtaposition of shale against the This analysis focuses on evaluating the known
faulted reservoir termination. Fault-plane sections hydrocarbon distribution in terms of geologic
(Allan, 1989) illustrate that the height of a hydro- parameters definable in a typical exploration mode,
carbon column in one reservoir is not controlled specifically fault throw, reservoir depth, and stratig-
Gibson 1377

wet 13-2 sand
(hanging wall)

oil-bearing 14-0 sand
(footwall) 500 meters

Figure 5—Fault-plane section of Poui YZ fault showing oil column (heavy stipple) in footwall 14-0 reservoir sealed
against wet 13-2 sandstone. Location of YZ fault is indicated in Figure 4b.

raphy. To minimize the variability in the data con- 250

sidered, the analysis is restricted to only those accu-

Column Height (meters)
mulations sealed in three-way dip closure against

lt th
one fault within the normally pressured portions of 200

ht =
the fields. These restrictions on the data set avoid

ambiguities where multiple faults define the trap 150

and eliminate hydrodynamic effects on seal capaci-
ty (e.g., Myers, 1968). All hydrocarbon column 100 col
heights referred to in the following sections are
measured from the oil-water and gas-oil contacts to
the structurally highest point along the intersection 50 self-juxtaposed
between the top of the reservoir and the sealing self-separated
fault. Fluid contacts encountered in the first well to 0
penetrate a given hydrocarbon accumulation are 0 200 400 600 800
used to eliminate the effects of production on the
Fault Throw (meters)
original pattern of trapped hydrocarbons.
For the purpose of data analysis, the fault-sealed Figure 6—Plot showing hydrocarbon column height
hydrocarbon accumulations are classified into two versus fault throw for self-juxtaposed and self-separated
groups: (1) self-juxtaposed, in which the produc- accumulations.
tive reservoir layer is partially juxtaposed against
itself across the fault, and (2) self-separated, in
which the productive reservoir is entirely separat-
ed from its continuation across the fault and juxta- that juxtapose part of a sandstone unit against itself
posed against another stratigraphic interval across (e.g., between A and B in Figure 2) do not signifi-
the fault. Figure 6 shows the distribution of hydro- cantly limit fluid communication during migration
carbon column heights (total oil or gas or both) as a and entrapment.
function of fault throw for the two groups. Support for this interpretation can be found in
specific relationships evident on detailed field
Self-Juxtaposed Accumulations cross sections. For example, where the Poui 14-0
These accumulations tend to have column reservoir in the hanging wall of the YY fault is self-
heights that are roughly equal (±15 m) to the fault juxtaposed against the base of itself, only a minimal
throw (Figure 6). Because most of the data in Fig- hydrocarbon column is sealed against the fault (Fig-
ure 6 are for footwall traps, the approximate corre- ure 7). In addition, the hydrocarbon-water contact
spondence between column height and throw for depth remains constant in the 15-0 sandstone
self-juxtaposed accumulations can be interpreted across the YY, YY′, and L faults, showing a lack of
to indicate that these column heights are limited by cross-fault sealing capacity for these self-juxtapos-
a cross-fault spillpoint near the depth of self-juxta- ing fault segments. Other faults that juxtapose two
position. This scenario implies that fault segments portions of the same hydrocarbon-bearing reservoir
1378 Fault-Zone Seals, Columbus Basin


oil and/or gas 12-2


shale u lt 12-3 2.0

fa 2.6
Y' 3.0
13-2 sandstone 7.1 13-0
13-0 7.1
6.3 13-1
13-1 14
2.8 13-2
-1600m 3.4
12-3 5
14-0 6.7
13-1 1.4 14-1
3.2 4.5 15-0
13-2 15-0 4.3
3.1 15-0
3.0 L
100 lt fa
14-0 3.8
' fau ul
Figure 7—Enlargement of a portion of Poui field cross section (Figure 4b) showing hydrocarbon columns (stippled)
sealed against YY and Y′ faults. Section is separated horizontally across YY fault to show SSF values (numbers) cal-
culated at various depths along the footwall side of this fault surface. Note preferential trapping of hydrocarbons
against portions of faults with the SSF less than or equal to 4 and common hydrocarbon-water contacts across fault
segments with larger SSFs. Numerical names of sandstone intervals are shown in italics. Vertical and horizontal
scales are equal.

cause changes of less than 20 m in hydrocarbon- have suggested is a function of fault displacement
water contact depth. and thickness of the displaced shale section (Bouvi-
These observations show that portions of faults er et al., 1989). Lindsay et al. (1993) related shale-
across which self-juxtaposition of a reservoir occurs smear continuity to shale-smear factor (SSF),
do not form significant lateral seals or, at most, are defined as the ratio of the fault displacement to
able to seal columns of up to approximately 20 m. apparent displaced shale thickness measured along
Based on the outcrop and core observations of fault the fault plane in a dip cross section.
zones in these rocks, these apparently poorly seal- To test for a relationship between shale-smear
ing fault segments are probably composed predomi- continuity and column height in the Teak and Poui
nantly of cataclastic sandstone (see Figure 2). fields, SSF values were calculated for each of the
faults in the self-separated data set. As a first pass,
Self-Separated Accumulations only the SSF at the intersection of the fault and
Column heights for self-separated accumulations reservoir top were calculated (Figure 8). SSF values
deviate dramatically from the “column height = between 1 and 4 are typical of faults with throws
fault throw” line in Figure 6. Column heights for exceeding 150 m, which seal the longest hydrocar-
accumulations sealed by faults with less than bon columns. In contrast, the smaller displacement
approximately 150 m of throw generally are less faults, with shorter sealed columns, have more vari-
than 75 m, whereas accumulations sealed by larger able SSF values, ranging from 1 to nearly 10.
displacement faults are mostly in the 50–125 m Further insight into the relationship between SSF
range. Within the largest fault-throw group, there is and shale-smear spatial continuity can be gained
no strong tendency for greater column height adja- from the cross section in Figure 7. SSF values are
cent to larger displacement faults. displayed for a series of points along the footwall of
Each of the faults sealing a self-separated hydro- the YY and Y′ faults. The longest sealed hydrocar-
carbon accumulation has sufficient throw to dis- bon columns (13-0 reservoir at YY fault, 15-0 reser-
place at least one shale interval past the faulted voir at Y′ fault) occur adjacent to fault segments
reservoir termination and, by inference from the with consistently low (≤3.2) SSF values. Reservoirs
outcrop observations and work in other areas (e.g., adjacent to portions of the fault with SSF greater
Weber et al., 1978; Lindsay et al., 1993), has the than or equal to 4.2 (13-1, 13-2, 14-1 reservoirs)
potential to develop a shale-smear fault zone. A sig- either are wet or contain only short hydrocarbon
nificant concern in the analysis of shale smears is columns. Hydrocarbons within the 14-0 sandstone
their spatial continuity, which previous workers are sealed only in the upper one-half of this sand-
Gibson 1379

Watts, 1987) that function through the interplay

Hydrocarbon Column Height (meters)
250 between the buoyancy pressure of the trapped
throw < 150m hydrocarbon column and the capillary displace-
ment pressure of the seal. The largest hydrocarbon
200 throw > 150m
column that can be sealed has a buoyancy pressure
equivalent to the seal displacement pressure,
which is the differential fluid pressure necessary to
150 force a nonwetting fluid phase through the largest
interconnected pore throats of the seal (see Smith,
1966; Schowalter, 1979; Watts, 1987; and Varva et
100 al., 1992 for complete overviews). The sealable
hydrocarbon column height, therefore, is a func-
tion of both the f luid properties and the pore-

throat radius of the sealing material.
50 Many workers, such as those previously cited,
have used capillary displacement pressure as a
measure of seal quality, recognizing that displace-
0 ment pressures vary in different fluid-rock systems
0 2 4 6 8 10 and need to be converted accordingly. The ap-
proach adopted in this paper is to express seal qual-
Shale-Smear Factor ity as the largest interconnected pore-throat radius,
Figure 8—Plot showing relationship between hydrocar- which is inversely proportional to displacement
bon column height and shale-smear factors calculated at pressure. Following Berg (1975), the general equa-
trap crest for self-separated accumulations. tion relating sealable column height (h) and pore-
throat radius (R) is

stone, where the SSF is 2.8–3.4; the fault-sealed h = 2γ/Rg(ρw – ρhc) (1)
hydrocarbon column does not extend into the
lower one-half of the reservoir where the SSF where g is the gravitational constant, γ is the hydro-
increases to higher values. carbon-water interfacial tension, and ρw and ρhc are
These observations are interpreted to indicate in-situ water and hydrocarbon densities, respective-
that the shale-smear fault zones in the Columbus ly. The form of the equation given here assumes a
Basin area maintain spatial continuity as long as the water-wet system in which the largest interconnect-
SSF does not exceed 4 (a displaced shale percent- ed pore throats in the reservoir rock are large
age of 25%). Faults showing self-separation, but enough that they can be neglected. For the Colum-
having throws of less than approximately 150 m, bus Basin reservoir sandstones, the latter assumption
tend to have variable SSFs as they cross-cut the is supported by both mercury injection data (M.
stratigraphy. As a result, fault-seal quality can vary Petta, 1990, personal communication) and the sharp
significantly between separate reservoir sand- character of logged hydrocarbon-water contacts (J.
stones, as well as vertically within a single reser- Lantz, 1990, personal communication), which indi-
voir. In cases where SSF increases with depth cate that no significant transition zones are present.
across a reservoir termination (e.g., 14-0 reservoir, The aim of the following section is to use these
Figure 7), the column height may be limited by the concepts to estimate the petrophysical properties
spatial extent of the shale smear, with a cross-fault of the fault-zone material in the Columbus Basin
spillpoint existing at the depth where the shale area. I use two approaches. The first approach
smear loses continuity (SSF ≥ 4). In contrast, where involves laboratory measurement of pore-throat
SSF values remain below 4 across the entire reser- size distribution of fault-zone material (e.g.,
voir termination (e.g., 13-0 reservoir at YY fault, 15-0 Schowalter, 1979). The second approach uses col-
reservoir at Y′ fault, Figure 7), no cross-fault spill- umn height and f luid property data from the
point is likely to exist. In Teak and Poui fields, faults trapped hydrocarbon accumulations as input into
with throw greater than 150 m consistently have an inverse calculation of maximum pore-throat
SSF values below 4 and tend to be able to seal the radius of the fault seal.
largest observed hydrocarbon columns. Laboratory Measurement
Data presented in the preceding section illus-
Capillary Properties of the Fault-Zone Seals trate that sections of faults producing self-juxtaposi-
tion of a single sandstone interval either do not seal
In a water-bearing rock system, fault seals can be or maintain column height differences of less than
treated as capillary seals (“membrane seals” of approximately 20 m. By analogy with outcrop
1380 Fault-Zone Seals, Columbus Basin

observations, these fault segments are inferred to columns sealed by these fault segments, and one
consist largely of cataclastically deformed sand- may conclude that even spatially continuous zones
stone. The lack of seal across these fault segments of cataclastic sandstone in the Columbus Basin
may reflect either (1) the lack of sufficient cataclas- fields are incapable of sealing large columns. How-
tic zone connectivity to form a spatially continuous ever, these conclusions do not preclude the possi-
barrier or (2) the cataclastic zones having intercon- bility that poor cataclastic zone interconnectivity
nected pore throats that are too large to seal signifi- contributes to the lack of seal across some of these
cant hydrocarbon columns. Unfortunately, cataclas- fault segments.
tic zone connectivity in the subsurface cannot be
tested; however, direct measurement of cataclastic Pore-Throat Radius Calculation
zone capillary properties from core and outcrop I had hoped to conduct similar laboratory tests
samples can help determine whether a connectivi- on samples of shale-smear fault zones; however, it
ty limitation is required to explain the lack of seals. was not possible to collect representative samples
One plug specimen of cataclastically deformed of this material, requiring use of a less direct
sandstone, sampled from core at 3784 m depth, approach. This approach involves using capillary
was analyzed to determine its cross-fault seal quali- pressure relationships to calculate R values for seal-
ty. The plug consisted of a well-developed, sand- ing faults from the observed sealed column heights
stone-derived cataclastic zone oriented roughly and known fluid properties. Equation (1) can be
orthogonally to the plug axis and bounded on rearranged to express interconnected pore-throat
either side by undeformed sandstone. The speci- radius as a function of column height and fluid
men was cleaned, brine saturated, and placed in a properties:
hydrostatic core holder. Methane was then injected
into the sample from one end. Injection pressure R = 2γ/hg(ρw – ρhc) (2)
was increased in a stepwise fashion (14-kPa steps
with 1 hr equilibration time) until methane was This equation can be used only to calculate R of a
detected on the downstream end of the plug, seal when the column heights are known to be lim-
across the cataclastic zone from the gas input. This ited by the capillary properties of a spatially contin-
test simulates the increase of gas buoyancy pres- uous seal. The equation does not hold for charge-
sure associated with buildup of a hydrocarbon col- limited or spillpoint-limited traps, for which it will
umn on one side of a cataclastic fault zone. Two yield maximum values. A similar approach was
tests, run at confining pressures of 2.76 and 20.7 recently used by Zieglar (1992) for seal analysis in
MPa, yielded essentially identical results with western North America.
methane breakthrough occurring at an injection Within the Teak-Poui data set, the hydrocarbon
pressure of 207 ±14 kPa. This corresponds to an accumulations that best fit the requirements for the
interconnected pore-throat radius of approximately application of equation (2) are those bounded by
0.7 µm, calculated as outlined by Varva et al. (1992) faults having SSF greater than 4 across the entire
using a room-temperature methane-water interfa- reservoir termination. This subset of the data
cial tension of 70 dynes/cm (Jennings and New- includes some, but not all, of the faults that pro-
man, 1971). duce self-separation of a reservoir horizon. These
One can use these data to explain the observa- accumulations lack either a synclinal or cross-fault
tion that self-juxtaposed portions of faults do not spillpoint, and the assumption of no charge limita-
appear to cross seal. Equation (1) allows maximum tion is thought to be valid based on the present-day
sealable column height to be calculated from this R seepage of hydrocarbon to the surface above the
estimate if one can estimate reasonable values of fields. For each of these accumulations, in-situ
fluid densities and interfacial tension. At 2000 m hydrocarbon densities were estimated from sur-
depth in the Columbus Basin fields, typical brine, face-measured fluid properties (API gravity, gas/oil
oil, and gas have in-situ densities of 1.0, 0.75, and ratio, gas gravity) using the approach outlined by
0.14 g/cm3, respectively. Calculations using maxi- Schowalter (1979) and algorithms presented by
mum hydrocarbon-pure water interfacial tension Standing (1977). Brine densities were calculated
values of 30 dynes/cm for oil and 60 dynes/cm for from salinity data published by Fisher (1987).
gas (based on Firoozabadi and Ramey, 1988) yield Hydrocarbon-brine interfacial tensions have not
maximum column heights of 35 m for oil and 20 m been measured for the fluids produced from the
for gas. In-situ interfacial tension values in a hydro- Columbus Basin fields, thus I estimated values from
carbon-brine system are likely to be somewhat published data. The most complete gas-water inter-
lower than predicted by the Firoozabadi and facial tension data set is that of Jennings and New-
Ramey (1988) relationship, resulting in even small- man (1971), which was subsequently used by
er sealable column heights for the cataclastic zones Firoozabadi and Ramey (1988) in developing their
under natural, subsurface conditions. These results correlation between interfacial tension and gas
are consistent with the minimal hydrocarbon density difference. Oil-brine interfacial tension is
Gibson 1381

more difficult to estimate because of large discrep- 3

ancies among individual data sets, the uncertain R = 0.515 e(-0.00021D)

Seal Pore-Throat Radius (µm)

effect of changes in fluid chemistry, and variable
experimental procedures (e.g., Livingston, 1938; r 2 = 0.57
Hocott, 1939; Firoozabadi and Ramey, 1988). To 1
maintain internal consistency in the calculations, R
values were estimated only for gas accumulations
in the data subset previously cited. Estimated gas-
water interfacial tensions, calculated with a simpli-
fied form of the Firoozabadi and Ramey (1988) rela-
tionship, range from 45 to 70 dynes/cm and
decrease with decreasing density difference
between the fluids. As noted by Firoozabadi and 0.1
Ramey (1988), based on the data of Hocott (1939),
interfacial tensions in natural brine-bearing fluid
systems may be smaller than predicted by their
relationship. Thus, equation 2 may yield R esti-
mates that are somewhat larger than actual values. 0.03
Calculated R values for the shale-smear fault 0 2000 4000
zones bounding the gas accumulations range from
0.05 to 0.95 µm (Figure 9). These values show a Subsea Depth (meters)
general tendency to decrease with increasing Figure 9—Calculated pore-throat radius of shale-smear
depth, defining a exponential relationship. Addi- fault zones as a function of depth. Data set includes only
tional R values calculated from gas column heights those accumulations sealed by faults with the SSF less
in other parts of the Columbus Basin (but not than 4 across the entire reservoir termination.
included here) verify and enhance the trend shown
in Figure 9. Although it is not possible to prove the
origin of this trend, it can be interpreted most sim-
ply to represent the mechanical collapse of the developed probably reflects the presence of rather
pore structure in the shale-smear fault zones under large pore throats in the cataclastic sandstone that
the influence of increasing burial stress. dominates these fault segments.
These conclusions are largely consistent with
those of others workers whose research is based
DISCUSSION on data from hydrocarbon fields. For instance, in
fields of the Louisiana Gulf Coast, faults juxtaposing
The data presented here support the general a sandstone against itself do not form lateral seals,
notion that shale smears are an important require- whereas most faults juxtaposing two stratigraphi-
ment for fault sealing in siliciclastic sediments like cally different sandstones tend to seal (Smith,
those in the Columbus Basin. In this area, shale 1980). In the North Sea, Knott (1993) showed that
smears with the greatest spatial continuity occur 90% of the faults with throw exceeding the thick-
where the SSF is less than 4 (shale comprises at ness of the Brent Group are sealing, whereas only
least 25% of the displaced stratigraphic section) one in three faults with smaller displacements
across the entire termination of a reservoir sand- serve as seals. He also found that intrareservoir seal-
stone. The hydrocarbon accumulations with the ing faults are common in stratigraphic sections
largest column heights generally occur adjacent to with net-to-gross sandstone values as large as 78%
these fault segments. Pore-throat radii of the shale- (22% shale). Along the same lines, Weber (1987)
smear fault zones range from 0.05 to 1 µm and concluded that sealing faults in the Niger Delta
decrease with depth, possibly due to burial com- occur preferentially in stratigraphic sections con-
paction effects. taining greater than 25–30% shale. Bouvier et al.
Fault segments that do not fulfill the criterion for (1989) used a parameter called the clay smear
spatially continuous shale smears tend to seal short- potential to predict fault-seal presence during
er hydrocarbon columns, which appear to be limit- detailed analysis of a Niger Delta field; however,
ed by the presence of a cross-fault spillpoint at the because the details of clay smear potential calcula-
depth where SSF values exceed 4 along the trap- tion are not known, it is unclear how their values
bounding fault. For faults that cause self-juxtaposi- compare to the shale-smear factors calculated in
tion of a sandstone interval, this spillpoint is typi- this paper. The broadly consistent conclusions of
cally close to the shallowest depth at which the these various studies suggest that the fundamental
reservoir is juxtaposed against itself. The lack of controls on fault-seal existence in siliciclastic
good fault seals where shale smears are not well sequences are similar in many sedimentary basins.
1382 Fault-Zone Seals, Columbus Basin

In a study of outcrop faults in English coal-bear- equals the displacement pressure of the shale
ing strata, Lindsay et al. (1993) concluded that spa- smear. To maintain this equilibrium after the trap is
tially continuous shale smears form where the SSF filled to capacity, additional entering hydrocarbons
is less than 7 (shale comprises 14% of the displaced will be compensated for by leakage through the
stratigraphic section). This result seems at odds pore throats of the seal at the point of greatest
with the petroleum field data cited by other work- buoyancy pressure (i.e., highest elevation of reser-
ers and in this paper, which indicates that shale voir along fault seal). Because hydrocarbons leak
smears seem to lose their sealing ability at an SSF from near the top of an accumulation in this situa-
approximately equal to 3.3–4.5 (22–30% shale in tion, a gas phase will tend to move farther along a
displaced stratigraphic section). This apparent dis- migration pathway than oil if both are present with-
crepancy may reflect the necessity for seals in the in the system.
subsurface to be spatially continuous in three During buoyancy-driven migration, hydrocar-
dimensions, whereas the outcrop data reflect the bons preferentially stay in zones of large pore-
shale-smear continuity on only a two-dimensional throat size relative to adjacent rocks (Smith, 1966;
outcrop surface. Schowalter, 1979). The estimated pore-throat radii
of both the cataclastic sandstone and shale smears
(Figure 9) are intermediate between laboratory-
IMPLICATIONS FOR SEAL ANALYSIS AND determined values for typical reservoir sandstones
HYDROCARBON MIGRATION (e.g., Pittman, 1992) and undeformed shales and
mudstones (e.g., Davies et al., 1991; Katsube et al.,
Using the information in the preceding sections, 1991; Krushin, 1994). The fault zones, therefore,
it is possible to define two fault-trap types that are are likely to serve as barriers to hydrocarbon migra-
differentiated on the basis of the factors controlling tion where two sandstones are juxtaposed with
the trapped hydrocarbon column height. Traps in one another, but as potential conduits for migration
which the hydrocarbon column is limited by the through a faulted shale section. The quality of the
spatial extent of a shale-smear fault zone are called barriers between juxtaposed sandstones will
cross-fault spillpoint limited traps. In the Colum- depend on the character (cataclastic sandstone vs.
bus Basin, many of these traps are bounded by shale smear) of that particular fault segment.
faults that partially juxtapose a reservoir against A schematic hydrocarbon migration scenario
itself, and column heights can be estimated by using concepts presented in this paper is illustrated
stratigraphic juxtaposition using fault-plane sec- in Figure 10. Hydrocarbons migrating within any of
tions (Allan, 1989). Some traps of this type occur the vertically stacked sandstones potentially can be
along faults that completely separate a reservoir, sealed where the sandstone is juxtaposed against
especially where fault throws are less than approxi- either shale or sandstone. Assuming that bedding-
mately 150 m. In these cases, mapping of SSF val- dip closure is not a limitation, column heights in
ues along the fault surface, either in cross section these traps will build until either a cross-fault spill-
(Figure 7) or on fault-plane sections (e.g., Bouvier point is reached (A–B in Figure 10) or the critical
et al., 1989), can help define the cross-fault spill- buoyancy pressure for seal leakage is attained (C–E
point. Because of the spillpoint limitation, any in Figure 10). The minimum of these two criteria
excess hydrocarbons introduced into a trap of this will control column height in any particular trap.
type will leak from near the base of the accumula- Basal leakage from cross-fault, spillpoint limited
tion. Thus, in a hydrocarbon system containing traps may tend to make these traps more gas prone
both oil and gas, oil will tend to move farther along in some migration situations. Once a capillary-limit-
a migration pathway intercepted by such traps (cf. ed trap is filled to capacity, leakage will allow
Gussow, 1954). migration either across the fault into a juxtaposed
In contrast, column heights in traps bounded by sandstone horizon (D in Figure 10) or upward with-
faults with spatially continuous shale smears (SSF in a fault zone juxtaposing shale against shale (C
<4) do not show any spillpoint limitation on col- and E in Figure 10). Thus, the relative capillary
umn height. Instead, column heights in these capil- properties of the fault zone and adjacent strata con-
lary-limited traps are likely to be limited by the trol the column height in the trap and, at the same
capillary displacement pressure of the fault-zone time, permit migration of excess hydrocarbons into
material. Column heights appropriate for these shallower reservoirs. Preferential updip migration
traps can be estimated using equation (1) if the of gas may result from crestal leakage of traps in the
petrophysical properties (especially R) of the fault capillary-limited portion of the system. Clearly, the
zone, hydrocarbon-brine interfacial tension, and interaction of these two trap types could create
fluid densities are known. Pore-throat radius esti- extremely complex migration and hydrocarbon
mates shown in Figure 9 can provide limits on rea- fractionation patterns.
sonable R values. Hydrocarbon columns in these The petroleum fields of the Columbus Basin
traps will build up until the buoyancy pressure have been recognized for many years to be charac-
Gibson 1383


oil gas

Figure 10—Schematic hydrocarbon migration scenario for a faulted siliciclastic system. Three different stippled
zones are sandstones, unmarked beds are shale, and oil and gas accumulations are shown (see key). See text for dis-
cussion of migration model.

terized by a distinctive spatial segregation of oil and blocks within these fields. They argued that these
gas (Leonard, 1983). In Teak field, hydrocarbons differences reflect changes imposed on an original-
are segregated into predominantly oil (API = ly homogeneous oil during the migration process.
24–35) in the footwall and predominantly gas plus Although no detailed attempt has been made to
minor oil (API >40) in the hanging wall of the trace the actual hydrocarbon migration pathway
major sealing fault, which has approximately 600 m through either of these fields, a migration model
of throw (Leonard, 1983). A similar pattern also is similar to that outlined in Figure 10 could provide a
evident across the large-displacement D and Y mechanism for such fractionation.
faults in Poui field (Figure 4b). Leonard (1983)
interpreted the hydrocarbon distribution pattern in
Teak field to reflect variations in the relative timing CONCLUSIONS
of hydrocarbon maturation and faulting across the
basin, such that different fault conduits tapped the In Tertiary siliciclastic sediments of the Colum-
generative source areas at different times in their bus Basin, the most significant fault seals occur
maturation history. Such a model is more difficult where shale smears exist along the faulted termina-
to apply to Poui field because of the more complex tion of a reservoir sandstone, even where two
structural geometry and hydrocarbon distribution. reservoir-quality sandstones are juxtaposed. The
An alternative, simpler interpretation is that this hydrocarbon distribution within two oil and gas
segregation is a consequence of the migration of fields of this area indicates that the formation of
both hydrocarbon phases along the same pathway shale smears occurs where the shale content of the
through a series of capillary-limited traps. Capillary- strata displaced along a particular fault segment
limited traps in the footwall of the large-displace- exceeds 25% (shale-smear factor <4). Cross-fault
ment faults, across which the oil-gas segregation leakage occurs across portions of faults that do not
occurs, would have preferentially leaked from the satisfy this criterion because cataclastic deforma-
trap crest when the trap was filled to seal capacity. tion of these porous reservoir sandstones does not
Apparent preferential gas and light oil migration produce fault-zone material with small enough
across these faults, therefore, was a natural conse- pore throats to serve as significant seals.
quence of updip hydrocarbon migration from the This paper presents two different scenarios for
footwall into the hanging wall. hydrocarbon leakage from fault-sealed traps. Where
In addition to the hydrocarbon phase segrega- a continuous shale smear is present, hydrocarbon
tion, Ross and Ames (1988) and Ames and Ross leakage that exceeds seal capacity occurs through
(1985) documented systematic geochemical differ- the fault-zone pore network from the top of the
ences between oils in various reservoirs and fault trap, thus favoring preferential movement of low-
1384 Fault-Zone Seals, Columbus Basin

density hydrocarbons in a two-hydrocarbon-phase characteristics of shales from the Scotian shelf: Geophysics,
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Knipe, R. J., 1986, Faulting mechanisms in slope sediments: exam-
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Richard Gibson
Richard Gibson received his B.S.
degree in geology from Allegheny
College, Meadville, Pennsylvania, in
1981, and his M.S. degree and Ph.D.
in geology from Virginia Polytech-
nic Institute, Blacksburg, Virginia,
in 1983 and 1987, respectively. He
held a postdoctoral research posi-
tion at Oak Ridge National Laborato-
ry before joining Amoco Production
Research in early 1989. His research
interests include the influence of fault zones on subsur-
face fluid flow and the application of kinematic studies
to understanding deformation patterns in orogenic belts.