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Paleoenvironmental and Sequence-stratigraphic Reinterpretation of

the Upper Devonian–Lower Mississippian Bakken Formation of


Subsurface Saskatchewan Integrating Sedimentological and
Ichnological Data
Solange Angulo 1 , Luis Buatois 1, and Steve Halabura 2

Angulo, S., Buatois, L., and Halabura, S. (2008): Paleoenvironmental and sequence-stratigraphic reinterpretation of the Upper
Devonian–Lower Mississippian Bakken Formation of subsurface Saskatchewan integrating sedimentological and ichnological
data; in Summary of Investigations 2008, Volume 1, Saskatchewan Geological Survey, Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and
Resources, Misc. Rep. 2008-4.1, CD-ROM, Paper A-3, 24p.

Abstract
The Upper Devonian–Lower Mississippian Bakken Formation of the Williston Basin (Canada) is one of the most
significant hydrocarbon reservoirs in southeastern Saskatchewan and represents an ideal hydrocarbon system,
comprising the source rock, reservoir rock, and cap rock all within the same formation. The Bakken Formation is
subdivided into three members: the Lower and Upper members both consisting of shelf black shale, and the sandy-
silty Middle Member. Previous interpretations have suggested that the Middle Member was deposited in an open-
marine system. Based on detailed core analysis, we propose a revised interpretation. The Lower Member and the
lower interval of the Middle Member form an open-marine coarsening-upward parasequence. The parasequence
consists of black shale deposited on a shelf; a lower to upper offshore siltstone interbedded with thin layers of silty,
very fine-grained sandstone; an offshore-transition of regularly interbedded siltstone and very fine-grained
sandstone; and a lower shoreface very fine-grained sandstone. With the exception of the anoxic to dysaerobic shale,
these open-marine deposits are intensely bioturbated, containing Phycosiphon, Nereites missouriensis, Planolites,
Asterosoma, Chondrites, and Teichichnus. Overlying this succession is an erosionally based, high-angle planar
cross-stratified sandstone, followed by thinly interlaminated sandstone and siltstone. A decrease in bioturbation
index, the small size of trace fossils, low ichnodiversity, syneresis cracks, and mud drapes all suggest tidal influence
and brackish water rather than an open-marine system. A transgressive lag then occurs and open-marine
conditions are re-established with deposition of upper offshore interbedded highly bioturbated siltstone and
microhummocky cross-stratified sandstone, followed by the shelf black shale of the Upper Member. Three system
tracts have been defined in this study: a basal transgressive systems tract, a highstand systems tract, and an upper
transgressive systems tract. The latter two are separated by a co-planar surface at the base of the marginal-marine
cross-stratified sandstone. In contrast to previous studies, the contact between the Lower and Middle members is
regarded as a facies change rather than a surface of allostratigraphic significance. Integration of sedimentological
and ichnological data within a sequence-stratigraphic framework provides a robust depositional model for the
Bakken Formation.

Keywords: Bakken Formation, Late Devonian, Early Mississippian, Williston Basin, Western Canada Sedimentary
Basin, sedimentology, sequence stratigraphy, ichnology, ichnofacies, sedimentary facies, Saskatchewan.

1. Introduction
Recent oil discoveries in northeastern Montana, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan have focused much petroleum-
industry attention on the Late Devonian to Early Mississippian Bakken Formation. Although several studies have
been conducted on the Bakken Formation, an ichnological analysis has not yet been presented. The purpose of this
paper is to provide a detailed, integrated study of the sedimentological, ichnological, and sequence-stratigraphy
characteristics of the Bakken Formation in order to better constrain the formation’s depositional history and thus to
improve the understanding of basin evolution during depositional times.
Ichnology is a powerful tool for paleoenvironmental reconstructions because trace fossils effectively provide an in
situ record of environment and environmental change, based on factors that influence benthic organisms (Bromley,
1996). It can constrain important environmental variables such as salinity, oxygen, and food supply, which are not

1
Department of Geological Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, 114 Science Place, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5E2.
2
North Rim Exploration Ltd., Suite 210, 3502 Taylor Street East, Saskatoon, SK S7H 5H9.

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commonly recorded in the original sedimentary fabric. Its integration with sedimentology, therefore, provides a
more accurate picture of depositional conditions than that obtained from sedimentological studies alone.
Although generally fewer than 28 m thick in southeastern Saskatchewan, the Bakken Formation records a complex
depositional history, involving several sea-level changes and both open-marine and estuarine environments. The
Bakken Formation represents a “perfect” hydrocarbon system, comprising the source rock, reservoir rock, and cap
rock all within the same formation (Halabura et al., 2007). This formation has been subdivided into three distinct
members. The Lower and Upper members comprise black shales deposited on a shelf below the storm wave base
mainly under anoxic conditions (Smith and Bustin, 1996). The Middle Member comprises siltstone and sandstone
with a minor proportion of oolitic calcarenite and limestone (Christopher, 1961; Smith and Bustin, 1996) deposited
in estuarine and open-marine depositional environments. While the black shales of both the Lower and Upper
members represent source rocks, the Middle Member has the greatest reservoir potential (Kreis et al., 2005, 2006).
This project is based on the study of cores from the Bakken Formation. Due to the lack of exposures of this unit,
outcrops of the partially coeval Exshaw Formation were examined in order to provide a better understanding of
sedimentary facies and depositional dynamics. Figure 1 shows the locations of: a) the area in which the nine well
cores described here (see Appendix) were situated, and b) the outcrops of the Exshaw Formation that were studied:
Jura Creek (type section) and Crowsnest Lake (roadcut on Highway 3). Fifteen cores from the Bakken Formation in
southeastern Saskatchewan have been described, representing a total of 220 m. The cores were slabbed to provide a
clear view of ichnological structures. Detailed core logs and interpretations of their sedimentary environments are
illustrated for nine of the fifteen described cores in the Appendix at the end of the paper. The location of these nine
cores are shown in Figure 2.

2. Geological Framework
The Bakken Formation is restricted to the subsurface of the Williston Basin in North Dakota, Montana,
Saskatchewan, and Manitoba (Christopher, 1961; Meissner, 1978; LeFever, 1991; Martiniuk, 1991; Smith and
Bustin, 2000; Kreis and Costa, 2005; Kreis et al., 2005, 2006). Deposition occurred during the Late Devonian and
Early Mississippian, as suggested
by conodont biostratigraphy
(Hayes, 1985; Karma, 1991). In
west-central Saskatchewan, the
Bakken Formation is truncated to
the north by the sub-Mesozoic
unconformity and correlated to
the west with the Exshaw and
Banff formations in Alberta and
British Columbia (Smith et al.,
1995). The Lower and Middle
members of the Bakken
Formation can be correlated with
the Exshaw Formation, while the
Upper Member is equivalent to
the lowermost strata of the Banff
Formation (ibid.).
The Bakken Formation
unconformably overlies the Big
Valley and Torquay formations
(Late Devonian) in
Saskatchewan, the equivalent
Lyleton Formation in Manitoba,
and the Three Forks Formation
in North Dakota and Montana
(Smith et al., 1995; Christopher,
1961). The Lodgepole Formation
(Lower Mississippian) in North
Dakota and Manitoba, and the
Souris Valley Beds in
Saskatchewan conformably
overlie the Bakken Formation
Figure 1 - Location of the two studied outcrops of the Exshaw Formation (Crowsnest (LeFever et al., 1991).
Lake to the south, Jura Creek to the north), and of the area containing the nine most
representative well cores describing the Bakken Formation (after Smith et al., 1995).

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Figure 2 - Location map of nine Bakken Formation cores in southeastern Saskatchewan that are described and interpreted in
the Appendix.
The Bakken Formation is subdivided into three clastic units: a lower massive to locally laminated black-shale
member; a middle siltstone, fine-grained calcareous siltstone, sandstone, or interbedded sandstone and siltstone with
mud drapes; and a black-shale Upper Member very similar to the Lower Member.
The Lower Member of the Bakken Formation is composed of massive to locally parallel-laminated black shale, with
patches of pyrite and shell fragments. This corresponds to facies 1 of the present study. Within the lowermost
member, bioturbation is almost absent except for some Chondrites and Thalassinoides observed in well 5-5-9-
16W3, and Chondrites, Zoophycos, and Phycosiphon present in outcrops of the equivalent Exshaw Formation at
Crowsnest Lake, Alberta. Karma (1991) assigned the lower shale to the Lower-Middle expansa Zone of Late
Famennian age, based on the presence of Palmatolepis gracilis signoidalis, Palmatolepis rugosa rugosa, and
Bispathodus jugous.

The Middle Member of the Bakken Formation records a wide variety of lithofacies that consist mainly of siltstone,
sandy-siltstone, and fine-grained sandstone. Within this member, nine facies have been recognized (facies 2 to 10),
and it has been variously subdivided by different authors. Christopher (1961) defined units A, B1, B2, B3, and B4.
LeFever et al. (1991) considered B1, B2, and B3 as subunits, and grouped them in unit B, referring to B4 as unit C
(Figure 3). Several other authors continued to use this nomenclature (e.g., Smith and Bustin, 1995, 1996). Unit A is
composed of greenish grey siltstone with crinoid remains and light grey or greenish grey, sandy siltstone to silty,
very fine-grained sandstone, all of which are highly bioturbated, commonly calcareous, pyritic, and locally have
shell remains. These correspond to facies 2 and 3A of the scheme outlined here. Subunit B1 consists of dark grey,
parallel-laminated, fossiliferous siltstone and light grey, massive, very fine-grained sandstone with muddy partings
(facies 4 and 5, respectively). Subunit B2 comprises light brownish grey, erosionally based, high-angled planar
cross-stratified, fine-grained sandstone and light to dark grey, beige and locally light red, commonly pyritic, and in
places slightly calcareous, wavy-bedded, very fine-grained sandstone (facies 6 and 7). Subunit B3 consists of very
thinly interlaminated, dark grey, very fine-grained sandstone and muddy siltstone, and very thinly interlaminated
dark grey mudstone and light grey, very fine-grained silty sandstone (facies 8 and 9). Unit C consists of a poorly
sorted coquina with sandy matrix that has a sharp basal contact, and grades upward into highly bioturbated, massive
and microhummocky, cross-stratified sandstone (facies 3B and 10). For simplicity, the units and subunits as defined

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Figure 3 - Composite lithological description of the Bakken Middle Member (modified from LeFever et al., 1991).

by LeFever et al. (1991) will be referred to for the remainder of the paper, unless otherwise stated.

The black-shale Upper Member is very similar to the lower shale and exhibits the same facies 1 (Figure 3),
characterized by massive to locally parallel-laminated black shale with local pyrite and shell fragments. Although
Karma (1991) noted that the conodont information from this member is not precise, he suggested that the Upper
Member is older than the Lower Siphonodella crenulata Zone (Middle Kinderhookian, Lower Mississippian).

3. Sedimentary Facies and Trace Fossils


Ten sedimentary facies were defined in the Bakken and Exshaw formations. Facies analysis was based on 15 well
cores from the Bakken Formation, and two outcrops of the Exshaw Formation: the type section in Jura Creek
(which includes the shaly Lower Member and the silty Upper Member), and an outcrop located at Crowsnest Lake
(roadcut on Highway 3), where only the shaly Lower Member is present. The environmental zonation for open-
marine settings is based on MacEachern et al. (1999), whereas that for estuarine deposits is taken from Dalrymple et
al. (1992).

a) Facies 1: Black Shale (Figure 4)


Description: Facies 1 consists of black, massive to locally parallel-laminated shale. Some shell fragments and
pyrite occur locally. Syneresis cracks occur towards the top of the lower black-shale interval. Bioturbation is
generally absent, but some cores did reveal the presence of Chondrites and Thalassinoides near the top of the lower
interval.
In the type section of the Exshaw Formation, this facies includes a matrix-supported pebble and cobble
conglomerate at the base. The matrix is composed of fine- to medium-grained sand mud chips and abundant shell
fragments that are replaced by pyrite. Concretions and sandstone lenses occur locally. In Crowsnest Lake,
Chondrites, Phycosiphon, Zoophycos, and fish remains occur within the same stratigraphic level.
Interpretation: Facies 1 records suspension fallout deposition in a low-energy environment without the influence
of waves and currents. The dark colour, lack of bioturbation, rare shell fragments, and thin lamination suggest
anoxic conditions. According to Thrasher (1985), however, the presence of in situ or locally reworked benthic
macrofauna remains near the basal and upper contacts of the Lower Member suggesting brief periods of more

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Figure 4 - Sedimentary facies of the open-marine facies association.

hospitable conditions on the sea floor during the initial and final stages of the lower black-mudstone deposition.
This is also consistent with the local occurrence of bioturbation. Facies 1 is interpreted as having been deposited in
a shelf environment (below storm wave base as indicated by the absence of oscillatory structures).
Distribution: Facies 1 occurs in the Lower and Upper members of the Bakken Formation, and is equivalent to
facies Mb of Smith and Bustin (1996).

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b) Facies 2: Highly Bioturbated Siltstone (Figure 4)
Description: Facies 2 consists of greenish grey, commonly calcareous, pyritic siltstone, with fragments of shells
and crinoids. It is generally highly bioturbated, showing a burrow-mottled texture. Although it is difficult to identify
discrete ichnogenera, Phycosiphon is locally abundant.

Interpretation: Facies 2 records suspension fallout deposition in a low-energy environment essentially in the
absence of waves and currents. The high index of bioturbation and common shell fragments suggest oxic
conditions. Facies 2 is interpreted as having been deposited in a lower offshore environment (directly above storm
wave base).
Distribution: Facies 2 occurs in the lower half of unit A (sensu LeFever et al., 1991) of the Middle Member, and
corresponds to facies SMm of Smith and Bustin (1996).

c) Facies 3
Facies 3 has been subdivided in two subfacies: 3A (highly bioturbated sandy siltstone), and 3B (interbedded highly
bioturbated siltstone and microhummocky cross-stratified sandstone).

Subfacies 3A: Highly Bioturbated Sandy Siltstone (Figure 4)

Description: Subfacies 3A consists of light grey or greenish grey, burrow-mottled, sandy siltstone to very fine-
grained silty sandstone, commonly calcareous, pyritic, locally with shell remains and discontinuous thin laminae of
shale. Discrete beds are absent or extremely rare, but sandier and siltier zones are present through the interval. The
subfacies 3A has a bioturbation index of 5 and is dominated by Phycosiphon and by Nereites missouriensis, which
are present in the sandier zones; subordinate ichnotaxa are Asterosoma, Teichichnus, and Planolites.

Interpretation: The thoroughly bioturbated deposits and the overwhelming dominance of a deposit-feeding
ichnofauna imply deposition under low-energy conditions. The environmental scenario envisaged is an upper
offshore setting, below fair-weather wave base, but above storm wave base. Sandstone beds are interpreted as distal
tempestites strongly reworked by biogenic action.

Distribution: Subfacies 3A occurs in the upper half of unit A (sensu LeFever et al., 1991) of the Middle Member,
and corresponds to facies SMh of Smith and Bustin (1996).

Subfacies 3B: Interbedded Highly Bioturbated Siltstone and Microhummocky Cross-Stratified Sandstone
(Figure 4)

Description: Subfacies 3B consists of interbedded dark grey, highly bioturbated siltstone, and light grey, very fine-
grained sandstone with microhummocky cross-stratification and very thin parallel lamination. In some cases, wave
ripples occur on top of microhummocky beds. The bioturbation index is highly variable. In the siltstone, the
bioturbation index is generally 6, while in the sandstone it is between 0 and 1. The dominant ichnofauna in the
siltstone is Phycosiphon, whereas Teichichnus is dominant in sandstone beds.

Interpretation: The highly bioturbated siltstone records quiet-water sediment fallout, while the microhummocky,
cross-stratified, very fine-grained sandstone beds were generated by purely oscillatory flows during storm events.
Wave ripples overlying the microhummocky zone indicate temporary reworking by waves during waning storms
(Dott and Bourgeois, 1982). The predominance of siltstone with episodic tempestites suggests deposition in an
upper offshore environment.
Distribution: Subfacies 3B occurs in the upper half of unit C (sensu LeFever et al., 1991) of the Middle Member,
and corresponds to facies SMh of Smith and Bustin (1996).

d) Facies 4: Highly Bioturbated Interbedded Sandstone and Siltstone (Figure 4)


Description: Facies 4 consists of interbedded light grey, massive, very fine-grained sandstone and siltstone with
diffuse bed boundaries. Deposits are generally slightly to moderately calcareous and have locally continuous shale
laminae. The bioturbation index is between 4 and 5. Dominant ichnofauna are Nereites missouriensis, particularly in
the very fine-grained sandstone beds, and Planolites; subordinate ichnotaxa are Phycosiphon, present in the siltstone
layers, and Asterosoma. In outcrops of the Exshaw Formation, Nereites missouriensis and Phycosiphon are clearly
preserved (Figure 5).

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Interpretation: The presence of intensely bioturbated
siltstone interbedded with very fine-grained sandstone
beds suggests open-marine conditions, below fair-
weather wave base and above storm wave base, in an
offshore transition zone. The lack of sedimentary
structures suggests significant biogenic reworking.
Distribution: Facies 4 is present in the lower half of
subunit B1 (sensu LeFever et al., 1991) of the Middle
Member, and corresponds to facies Sw of Smith and
Bustin (1996).

e) Facies 5: Highly Bioturbated Sandstone


(Figure 4)
Description: Facies 5 consists of light grey, massive,
very fine-grained sandstone, with muddy partings
Figure 5 - Nereites missouriensis (labelled Nm) and (<1 mm). The bioturbation index is between 4 and 5.
Phycosiphon (labelled P) in type section of the Exshaw The dominant ichnotaxa are Planolites with
Formation at Jura Creek. subordinate Asterosoma.
Interpretation: The high bioturbation index (5) and the lack of siltstone and mudstone suggest deposition above
the fair-weather wave base in a lower shoreface setting. Biogenic reworking is responsible for the absence of
sedimentary structures.

Distribution: Facies 5 occurs in the upper half of subunit B1 (sensu LeFever et al., 1991) of the Middle Member,
and corresponds to facies Sl of Smith and Bustin (1996).

f) Facies 6: High-angle Planar Cross-stratified Sandstone (Figure 6)


Description: Facies 6 consists of light brownish grey, erosionally based, well sorted, high-angle planar cross-
stratified, fine-grained calcareous sandstone. Some intervals have a massive appearance, while others have parallel
lamination and low-angle cross-stratification. Reactivation surfaces and pyrite mineralization are locally present. No
body and/or trace fossils are present in this facies.

Interpretation: The erosional base, high-angle planar cross-stratification, and reactivation surfaces are evidence of
a high-energy environment. The drastic decrease in bioturbation index and ichnodiversity relative to the underlying
facies suggests stressful conditions, most likely a combination of high-energy levels and brackish-water conditions.
Facies 6 is interpreted as having been produced by migrating dunes in a bayhead-delta complex that formed the
innermost part of the estuarine system.

Distribution: Facies 6 is present in the lower half of subunit B2 (sensu LeFever et al., 1991) of the Middle
Member, and corresponds to facies St and Sr of Smith and Bustin (1996).

g) Facies 7: Wavy-bedded Sandstone (Figure 6)


Description: Facies 7 consists of light to dark grey, beige and locally light red, wavy-bedded, very fine-grained
sandstone that is slightly calcareous in places. Mudstone drapes are common in this facies and pyrite is locally
present. Trace fossils are rare and identification of discrete ichnogenera, with the exception of Planolites, is
generally difficult.
Interpretation: The presence of wavy bedding indicates an energy decrease in the depositional environment with
respect to the energy level suggested by sedimentary structures in the underlying facies 6. In addition, mud drapes
suggest a tidal influence. This facies likely reflects deposition in more protected areas of the bayhead-delta complex.
Distribution: Facies 7 occurs in the upper half of subunit B2 (sensu LeFever et al., 1991) of the Middle Member,
and corresponds to facies Sf of Smith and Bustin (1996).

h) Facies 8: Thinly Interlaminated Sandstone and Siltstone (Figure 6)


Description: Facies 8 consists of dark grey, very thinly interlaminated, very fine-grained sandstone and muddy
siltstone. Locally present are current-ripple cross-lamination and mudstone drapes. Bioturbation is absent or usually
low (between 0 and 1), but in some places cryptobioturbation or Planolites are identifiable.

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Figure 6 - Sedimentary facies of the estuarine facies association.
Interpretation: Rhythmically interlaminated sandstone and muddy siltstone may represent tidal processes in the
innermost part of an estuarine basin.

Distribution: Facies 8 is present in the lower half of subunit B3 (sensu LeFever et al., 1991) of the Middle
Member, and corresponds to facies Sw of Smith and Bustin (1996).

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i) Facies 9: Thinly Interlaminated Mudstone and Sandstone (Figure 6)
Description: Facies 9 consists of very thinly interlaminated, dark grey, mudstone and light grey, very fine-grained
silty sandstone. Mud drapes and thinly parallel-laminated sandstone beds occur locally. Syneresis cracks are
commonly present. The bioturbation index is 3 with the dominant ichnofauna being Planolites and Teichichnus.

Interpretation: The low ichnodiversity, mud drapes, and regular alternation of mudstone and sandstone layers
indicate tidal processes in a low-energy environment with stressful conditions for benthic organisms. The presence
of syneresis cracks has been related to fluctuations in salinity (MacEachern and Pemberton, 1994). Facies 9 is
interpreted as having been deposited in an estuary basin under brackish-water conditions.
Distribution: Facies 9 occurs in the upper half of subunit B3 (sensu LeFever et al., 1991) of the Middle Member,
and corresponds to facies Sl of Smith and Bustin (1996).

j) Facies 10: Coquina (Figure 6)


Description: Facies 10 consists of a poorly sorted coquina with sandy matrix that passes upward into highly
bioturbated, massive and microhummocky cross-stratified sandstone with localized pyrite. The basal contact is
sharp. The thickness of this facies is generally 8 to 12 cm.

Interpretation: Facies 10 occurs above estuary basin deposits (commonly facies 8 and 9) and is interpreted as a
transgressive lag that formed during wave ravinement. These transgressive deposits pass upward into upper offshore
facies. Facies 10 records high-energy ravinement during drowning of the estuary.
Distribution: Facies 10 occurs in the lower half of unit C (sensu LeFever et al., 1991) of the Middle Member.

4. Facies Associations and Depositional Model


Two facies associations have been interpreted based on core analysis in the Bakken Formation: open marine and
estuarine. Only the former was identified in outcrops of the Exshaw Formation (Figures 7 and 8 and Appendix).

a) Open-Marine Facies Association (Figures 4 and 8)


The open-marine facies association includes the black shales of the Lower and Upper members (facies 1), and unit
A, subunit B1 and unit C of the Middle Member (Figure 3). These two discrete packages of open-marine deposits
are separated by an interval of estuarine deposits (subunits B2 and B3; see below). The open-marine facies
association in unit A and subunit B1 consists, from base to top, of lower offshore (facies 2), upper offshore
(subfacies 3A), offshore-transition (facies 4), and lower shoreface (facies 5) deposits. Unit C of the Middle Member
and the Upper Member record the re-establishment of open-marine conditions. Above the transgressive lag (facies
10), upper offshore, interbedded highly bioturbated siltstone and microhummocky cross-stratified sandstone occur
(subfacies 3B). As the transgression proceeded, the black shale of the Upper Member was deposited in an anoxic
shelf environment.

With the exception of the black shale of the Lower Member, which has been interpreted as deposited mainly in
anoxic to dysaerobic and the anoxic black shale of the Upper Member, the rocks are characterized by a high
bioturbation index, with a “distal” Cruziana ichnofacies, where dominant elements are Nereites missouriensis and
Phycosiphon, while subordinate ichnotaxa are Asterosoma and Planolites, and, more rarely, Teichichnus and
Chondrites. The contacts between the different facies are gradational. The lack of sedimentary structures and well-
defined bed boundaries are attributed to biogenic reworking. Smith and Bustin (1995, 1996, and 2000) reported the
Nereites and Skolithos ichnofacies in the Middle Member. Ichnological data indicate, however, that these
ichnofacies do not occur within the Bakken Formation. Because the Nereites ichnofacies is typical of deep-marine
turbidites, its presence in the Bakken Middle Member would be hard to reconcile with other evidence indicative of
shallow-water origin. The Nereites ichnofacies is characterized by the dominance of complex graphoglyptids
produced by animals that farm bacteria and trap micro-organisms (Seilacher, 1977). This ethology is absent in the
ichnofauna recorded in the Bakken, suggesting that this ichnofacies does not occur in this unit. Ichnofaunas
dominated by vertical burrows of suspension feeders and passive predators are conspicuously absent in the studied
cores of Bakken Formation. The presence of the Skolithos ichnofacies cannot, therefore, be confirmed.

b) Estuarine Facies Association (Figure 6)


The estuarine facies association corresponds to subunits B2 and B3 (Figure 3) of the Middle Member. These two
subunits have been grouped with open-marine deposits in previous studies on the Bakken Formation and are

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Figure 7 - Idealized stratigraphic log of the Bakken Formation.

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Figure 8 - Core photograph showing the open-marine and estuarine facies associations in well 5-31-6-13W2 (1700.8 to
1719 m; see Appendix for detailed description); HST; highstand systems tract; SB, sequence boundary; TS; transgressive
surface; and TST, transgressive systems tract.
recognized here as a discrete interval that formed under marginal-marine conditions. Basal deposits consist of high-
angle planar cross-stratified calcareous sandstone produced during dune migration (facies 6). Trace fossils and body
fossils are absent, probably due to high-energy conditions and reduced salinity during deposition. Facies 6 passes
upward into wavy-bedded sandstone, commonly with mud drapes (facies 7) as a result of energy decrease during
channel abandonment. Sparse bioturbation occurs, but no discrete ichnogenera are identified. The high-angle planar
cross-stratified calcareous sandstone and the wavy-bedded sandstone with mud drapes are interpreted as a bayhead
delta. Above facies 7, thinly interlaminated sandstone and siltstone (facies 8) and thinly interlaminated mudstone
and sandstone occur. The presence of mud drapes in facies 7 and 8 suggests tidal influence. In facies 7, Planolites
occurs locally, while Planolites and Teichichnus are present in facies 8. The bioturbation index in facies 7 and 8 is
low to medium, and the ichnofauna is characterized by small size and low ichnodiversity (depauperate Cruziana
ichnofacies), which, in addition to the syneresis cracks, indicate brackish-water conditions in the estuary basin. The
ichnofaunal change coincides with the appearance of structures suggestive of tidal influence (e.g., mud drapes). The
presence of this anomalous ichnofauna is inconsistent with previous models that imply fully marine conditions
during deposition of unit B.

5. Sequence Stratigraphy
The Bakken Formation records high-frequency sea-level changes, as is reflected by facies analysis and high-
resolution sequence stratigraphy. Smith et al. (1995) presented a five-part model of the depositional history of the
Bakken Formation that accounts for each member and unit of the Bakken Formation and the Exshaw Formation of
Alberta. According to this model, the Bakken Lower Member was deposited during a relative sea-level rise, thus
being a transgressive systems tract, whereas the Bakken Middle Member subunits A and B of Smith and Bustin
(1995, 2000) (units A and B of LeFever et al., 1991) were deposited during a drop in sea level, thus being part of a
lowstand systems tract. The Middle Member subunit C (of Smith and Bustin (1995, 2000)) (unit C of LeFever et al.,
1991) together with the Bakken Upper Member comprise a second transgressive systems tract.

Integrated ichnological and sedimentological observations, however, suggest a different model, particularly with
respect to relative sea-level changes during deposition of the Middle Member. Three systems tracts have been
determined in the Bakken Formation: a basal transgressive systems tract embracing the lower part of the Lower
Member; a highstand systems tract including the upper interval of the Lower Member and the lower part of the
Middle Member; and an upper transgressive systems tract which comprises the upper interval of the Middle
Member and the lower part of the Upper Member (see Appendix).
During the Late Devonian, most of the Williston Basin and eastern cratonic platform were exposed to erosion and
reworking due to a drop in sea level which produced the Acadian unconformity. Only the relatively deeper centre of
the Williston Basin and the Prophet Trough experienced little or no reworking at that time (Smith and Bustin,
2000). Several authors have defined this unconformity as a first-order sequence boundary separating the Lower and
the Upper Kaskaskia sequences (Wheeler, 1963; Gerhard and Anderson, 1988; Moore, 1989; Richards, 1989). In

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Saskatchewan, this unconformity corresponds to the contact between the Big Valley/Torquay and Bakken
formations.

a) Basal Transgressive Systems Tract


The Acadian unconformity is overlain by the black shale of the Lower Member of the Bakken Formation, which
records the latest Devonian sea-level rise described by Johnson et al. (1985). The basal contact is, therefore,
considered a coplanar surface corresponding to a sequence boundary (Acadian unconformity) amalgamated with a
transgressive surface. Within the black shale of the Lower Member is a maximum flooding surface which marks the
top of this transgressive systems tract.
The basal transgressive systems tract consists exclusively of black shale from the Lower Member, deposited on a
shelf, below the storm wave base, mostly under anoxic conditions, with some periods of dysoxic conditions. The
black shale of the Lower Member represents a condensed section with a very slow sediment accumulation over a
broad area of the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin (Smith and Bustin, 2000).

b) Highstand Systems Tract


The accommodation space created by the previous transgression was filled during the subsequent highstand. These
deposits comprise a coarsening-upward parasequence, reflecting progradation under open-marine conditions. The
parasequence consists of shelf black shale (Lower Member, facies 1), overlain by lower offshore (facies 2), upper
offshore (subfacies 3A), offshore-transition (facies 4), and lower shoreface (facies 5) deposits, the latter being found
locally in some cores.

Although the contact between the Lower and Middle


members of the Bakken Formation is rather sharp, it
has been interpreted in this study as conformable.
Christopher (1961), Smith et al. (1995), and Smith and
Bustin (1996) previously interpreted this contact as an
unconformity. However, no evidence of erosion, abrupt
change in facies, or subaerial exposure has been found.
The shelf black shale of the Lower Member is
conformably overlain by lower offshore, highly
bioturbated siltstone. Christopher (1961) reported
compressed mudcracks at the top of the black shale of
the Lower Member. However, these structures have
been interpreted here as syneresis cracks rather than
desiccation cracks (Figure 9).
Smith and Bustin (1995) mentioned the presence of
Chondrites at the top of the Lower Member and
interpreted the burrows as having been emplaced in a
firmground, representing a Glossifungites ichnofacies
that records a sequence boundary. The Glossifungites
ichnofacies is, however, characterized by sharp-walled,
unlined, passively filled, dwelling burrows of
suspension feeders or passive predators. The most
common ichnotaxa in this ichnofacies correspond to the
ichnogenera Diplocraterion, Skolithos, Arenicolites,
Gastrochaenolites, Thalassinoides, Spongeliomorpha,
and Rhizocorallium (MacEachern et al., 1992;
Pemberton et al., 1992). Chondrites are feeding
burrows produced either by deposit feeders or by
chemosymbionts (Seilacher, 1990; Fu, 1991; Bromley,
1996). Accordingly, this ichnotaxon is not a component
of the Glossifungites ichnofacies.

c) Transgressive Systems Tract


During the Late Devonian, a sea-level drop took place,
and open-marine deposits from the previous highstand Figure 9 - Syneresis cracks (labelled with yellow arrows) at
systems tract were eroded and overlain by shallower, the contact between the Lower and Middle members of the
marginal-marine estuarine deposits. The basal contact is Bakken Formation in core from well 5-31-6-13W2 at
a coplanar surface, which corresponds to a sequence 1718.57 m.

Saskatchewan Geological Survey 12 Summary of Investigations 2008, Volume 1


boundary and a transgressive surface due to valley incision produced during sea-level fall, followed by a
transgression. No fluvial deposits of the lowstand systems tract have been identified in the analyzed cores of the
Bakken Formation. According to Sandberg et al. (2002), a eustatic sea-level fall occurred across the Devonian-
Mississippian boundary associated with the Devonian Southern Hemisphere glaciation. Therefore, the Devonian-
Mississippian boundary might occur at this sequence boundary. This contact clearly reflects an abrupt contrast in
bioturbation index and ichnodiversity, which suggests a sudden change in salinity conditions from fully marine in
the open-marine deposits of the previous highstand to brackish-water in the estuarine deposits of the transgressive
systems tract.
A transgressive trend is reflected by the vertical passage from bayhead-delta deposits of the inner-estuary zone
(facies 6 and 7) to estuary-basin deposits of the middle estuary (facies 8 and 9). As the transgression proceeded,
open-marine conditions were re-established and, above a transgressive lag (facies 10), upper offshore deposits occur
(subfacies 3B). Finally, the black shale of the Upper Member was deposited in a shelf environment.

6. Conclusions and Perspectives


A paleoenvironmental and sequence stratigraphic reinterpretation of the Upper Devonian–Lower Mississippian
Bakken Formation of subsurface Saskatchewan is provided in this study. Based on core analysis, we propose a new
interpretation for the Middle Member, which was previously interpreted as having been deposited entirely in open-
marine environments. Two facies associations, comprising open-marine and estuarine settings are proposed. The
open-marine facies association includes the black shales of the Lower and Upper members (facies 1), and unit A,
subunit B1 and unit C of the Middle Member. These units of the Middle Member comprise lower offshore (facies
2), upper offshore (facies 3), offshore-transition (facies 4), and lower shoreface (facies 5) deposits. A transgressive
lag (facies 10) present in unit C is also included in this association. A distal Cruziana ichnofacies characterizes the
open-marine facies association. The estuarine facies association occurs in subunits B2 and B3, and consists of
bayhead-delta deposits (facies 6 and 7) and estuary-basin deposits (facies 8 and 9). A depauperate Cruziana
ichnofacies occurs in this association.

Three systems tracts were defined: a basal transgressive systems tract which overlies the Acadian unconformity and
includes exclusively black shale shelf deposits of the Lower Member; a highstand systems tract which comprises
open-marine deposits making up the upper interval of the black shale and the lower part of the Middle Member (unit
A and subunit B1); and an upper transgressive systems tract which includes estuarine and open-marine deposits that
form subunits B3 and unit C of the Middle Member, and the lower interval of the Upper Member. A coplanar
surface (amalgamated sequence boundary and transgressive surface) occurs at the base of subunit B3.
The recognition of marginal-marine estuarine deposits, and the proposed sequence stratigraphic model of the
Bakken Formation have a high impact on the reservoir geometry and, hence, on future oil exploration and
production in the area. Additional work is needed in order to determine if the geometry of these estuarine facies
effectively corresponds to a drowned incised valley or to a broader brackish-water embayment.

7. Acknowledgments
We thank Gabriela Mángano for providing useful comments on the Bakken ichnofauna, and Sheldon Modeland,
Robin Renaut, and Kim Kreis for reviewing the paper. Financial support for this study has been provided by a grant
from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Energy and Resources’ “University Southern Geoscience Research Grants and
Training Program”, and a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant 311726-
05 awarded to Buatois, and a Shell Summer Grant awarded to Angulo.

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Appendix

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Saskatchewan Geological Survey 18 Summary of Investigations 2008, Volume 1
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