You are on page 1of 10

Seismic Exploration of the Rocky Mountain Region, 1985

SEISMIC INTERPRETATION OF THE WYOMING OVERTHRUST BELT


W.D. Williams and J.S. Dixon
Champlin Petroleum Co.1

INTRODUCTION
Significance of Seismic Line
Thisseismic line provides a regional presentation of thrustbelt tectonics and demonstrates the
structural style of the prolific producing trend within the Wyoming salient of the Western Overthrust Belt. The line traverses the Whimey Canyon and Ryckman Creek fields, the Absarkoa and
Darby plates, and terminates over Green River Basin strata (Fig. 1).
The geometry of the thrust faults can be seen on Figures 2 thru 5. Beginning at the west end of the
line, the Absaroka Thrust overrides the Darby Plate sedimentary rocks and then subcrops in a position
directly above the location of the trailing edge of the Darby Thrust Fault detachment, which lies within
the Cambrian Gros Ventre Shale (Figs. 3,5). The Darby Thrust begins at the decollement, ramps up
over Green River Basin strata, and subcrops beneath a Tertiary section in a series of imbricated faults
(Figs. 3,5).
The fold geometries within the Absaroka Plate show an immediate visual contrast (Fig. 3) with the
lower amplitude folding along the leading edge of the Darby. Also easily recognizable is the unconformity that exists in the shallow part of the line, which separates Tertiary from Mesozoic sedimentary
rocks. The east end of the seismic line is significant in that it shows the effect of the last major thrust
fault, the Darby, terminating against Green River Basin strata. This compression caused an overthickening of the Upper Cretaceous Hilliard Shale because of lateral piercement beneath, and in front
of, the thrust. The basinal rocks to the east are otherwise undisturbed and show regional west dip.
Location of Seismic
The line is located in Uinta County, Wyoming, (Fig. 1)within the Overthrust Belt and is oriented
in an east-west direction, parallel to structural dip and normal to the strike of the major thrusts.

REGIONAL GEOLOGY
Tectonic Setting
The Wyoming Salient of the western Overthrust Belt should be considered relative to known
western North American tectonic history, particularly accretionary tectonics and the original western
cratonic edge. The western part of the province at the Crawford Plate is about 280 mi (450 km) east
of the strontium 0.706 ratio line (Fig. 7), well within the bounds of the original cratonic edge. It now
appears so isolated from the known accretionary terranes of the Blue Mountains/Seven Devils, Roberts
Mountain, and Sonoma terranes by intervening Basin and Range tectonism that the direct
mechanistic linkage of overthrust and accretion to the craton margin is obscure.
Rock strength and mechanics studies indicate another severe difficulty: the collision and resultant
piston-like overthrust geometries are impossible because the distance of force transmission far
1A

wholly owned subsidiary of Union Pacific Corporation

exceeds the rocks capability to transmit that force. A relief from this dilemma is provided by underthrust concepts (Misch, 1960; Coney, 1973; Burchfiel and Davis, 1975; Dickinson, 1976; Lowell,
1977) in which there is no transmission of force from accretionary collisions in the west. The force
transmission was from the immensely stronger cratonic side during mid-Atlantic spreading. With this
setting in mind, the upper plates of overthrust sheets merely stood in place and were deformed u p
ward as the lower, undeformed autochthonous block was isostatically depressed and moved westward.
According to this concept, initial deformation by overthrusting was significantly closer to the
western cratonic edge, and the cratonic edge was defined by strontium ratio line moved westward
both literally and relatively through time.
Problems of the grand-scale geologic setting will continue to be argued for a long time, especially
concerning the role of gravity sliding, basement involvement, and internal features on a far smaller
scale.
There is hope in the near future to achieve a very defendable definition of internal geometries of
the easternmost three thrust systems (Crawford,Absaroka, and HogsbacWDarby). This definition has
been started and may be ultimately achieved by increased drilling and the acquisition of more and
higher quality seismic control. The cratonic ramp (Fig. 1))onto which the Wyoming Salient has been
developed is already adequately defined by regional seismic lines as a gentle, westward-dipping plane
(300 fdmi or 57dkm) that has in places been deformed into broad arches such as the Moxa Arch
(Dixon, 1982). The mode of this deformation was apparently by isostatic loading of Cretaceous foredeep or foretrench sedimentation (Jordan, 1981).
The regional basal sole or detachment is well defined by seismic. It is located within the Cambrian
Gros Ventre Shale, a middle unit of the transgressive Cambrian Flathead, Gros Ventre, Gallatin
sequence (Fig. 8) which thickens westward, as do all other Paleozoic units, and deposition very closely
paralleled the crystalline Precambrian basement surface of very low relief. In the northern part of the
province and certainly in Montana, Paleozoic rocks are separated from crystalline basement by a westward-thickening low grade metamorphic Precambrian sedimentary sequence correlative with the Belt
Group or Uinta Group. Where these metasedimentary rocks are present, there is some seismic
indication that the regional detachment can occur stratigraphically lower within it, but never into
crystalline basement (Dixon, 1982).

Depositional Setting.
The stratigraphic sequence of mainly Paleozoic and Mesozoic rocks is about 40,000 ft (12,200 m)
thick (Fig. 8). The carbonate Paleozoic rocks are very competent, while sandstones, shales, carbonates
and evaporites of Mesozoic age are rather incompetent, causing styles of brittle and plastic deformation
to develop. This stratigraphic sequence provides numerous reservoirs and source rocks, but by far the
most significant source rocks are in the Lower Cretaceous sequence.
Paleozoic deposition older than the Pennsylvanian Weber Sandstone was all thickening westward
and represented rather normal marine cratonic shelf-to-edge sedimentation with numerous discon-

Figure 1

LOCATION MAP

YOMING

,/
I

SEISMIC PARAMETERS
Client /
Contractor
Year

Processing

1972

660ft.
220ft.
Shot Int.
Group Int.
Spread 517e-1l ( F l l w 5 1 7 0 Sample
Rate DFS
2msRecording

Dynamite

Source

Champlin Petroleum Company

Amoco

Charge Size

501bs-

Final Filter

Hole Depth
CDP Fold

140ft8

Final Scaling 500ms- AGC Channels

9/18-36/66

System

48

Special Processing Instrument dephase, time

variant filter, spectral whitening, surface consistent statics, migration

Williams and Dixon

Wyoming Overthrust Belt


2009 Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists & Denver Geophysical Society

13

ELEVATION IN F-EET (THOUSANDS)

:E

LINE 1
8 FOLD - SINGLE HOLE DYNAMITE - 1972
FILTERED, SCALED TIME SECTION
PROCESSED BY: CHAMPLIN PETROLEUM CO., 1984

KILOMETERS

DIP ANGLE
0

1
1

STATUTE MILES
APPROXIMATE VERTICAL EXAGGERATION

Figure

1 . 3 AT 2 . 7 S E C O N D S

~~

~~

~~

14

Wyoming Overthrust Belt

Williams and Dixon


'
5

co
a

-L

"

P
c

0
r
in

I
3

73

0
-r

..<

0
Ix1

cn

0)

73
XI

7
U

rn

c)

r
rn

ru

UI

APPROXIMATE DEPTH IN FEET (THOUSANDS]

REFLECTION TIME IN SECONDS

="

(z

mm

E-

ELEVATION IN FEET (THOUSANDS)

:E

LINE 1
8 FOLD - SINGLE HOLE DYNAMITE - 1972
MIGRATED TIME SECTION
PROCESSED BY: CHAMPLIN PETROLEUM CO., 1984

K IL 0 M E T E R S

DIP ANGLE
0

I
0

I
2

I
STATUTE MILES

APPROXIMATE VERTICAL EXAGGERATION


1.3 A T 2 . 7 S E C O N D S

Wyoming Overthrust Belt

Williams and Dixon

Figure 4

16

0
8
7

LINE 1 - INTERPRETED
8 FOLD - SINGLE HOLE DYNAMITE

1972

MIGRATED TIME SECTION


PROCESSED*BY: CHAMPLIN PETROLEUM CO., 1984

ABS
T

- Tertiary

Ku

Williams and Dixon

- Absaroka Thrust

- Upper Cretaceous

LEGEND
KI

- Lower Cretaceous

- Jurassic
Jn - Jurassic
J

Nugget

Wyoming Overthrust Belt

KILOMETERS

DIP ANGLE

- Triassic
P - Paleozoic

Tr

- Cambrian Gros Ventre

I
1 0'

10.

0.

STATUTE MILES
APPROXIMATE VERTICAL EXAGGERATION
1 3 AT 2 7 S E C O N D S

Figure 5

17

4 .O

3.5

3.0

2.5

2.0

1.5

1.o

0.5

0.0

CORRELATION CHART

SEISMIC

KEY

..

-TD GALLAl'IN
GROS VENT'RE

MORGAN

PHOSPHORIIA

ANKAREH

NUGGET

TWIN CREEEK

STUMP

DAKOTA

FRONTIER

ADAVILLE

EVANSTON

CHURCH BUTTfES UNIT WELL


No. 19
Sec 8 T16N R1 12w

SYNTHETIC REFLECTORS

2AMBRIAh

MISS.)WON1AN

PERMOPENN.

HOGBACK RIDGE ' 7 7

SESS
HITNEY CANYON ' 7 7

*
*

RED CANYON ' 7 Q e

*
CAVE CRK.'79

UPRR 8

I t

I-

CHICKEN CRK. ' 8 2 '


$BEssiE
BTMS ' 8 3

LAND GRANT
(I

RCH.'78

RCH.E.'79
&NO.

PINEVIEW ' 8 2

I
---.

-rJ

TLKHORN'77

WESTERN U. S.
SELECTED
rECTONlC ELEMENTS
Figure 7: Fields and year of discovery in the Wyoming Salient

Williams and Dixon

I
I

Figure 8: Generalized stratigraphic column of the southern


portion of the Wyoming Salient. Productive intervals and
potential source rocks are indicated.

Wyoming Overthrust Belt

-- --- L
I
I

MEXICO

Figure 9.

19

MARATHON
1 ALBERT CRK

WHITNEY CANYON FIELD


CHEVRON
2 1-30E
30-17N-119W

RYCKMAN CREEK FIELD

36- 18N-117W
PROJ. 3.1 MI. TO SOUTH

AMOCO
1-CPC-549A

AMOCO
1-CPC-4 13A

3-17N-116W
PROJ. 2.1 MI. TO SOUTH

21-17N-115W
PROJ. 1400' TO NORTH

AMOCO
1-CPC-224

HAMILTON
HAMILTON FED 1-8

AMOCO
1-CPC-549B

19-17N-118W

8-17N-116W

1-17N-116W

25,000'

Williams and Dixon

Wyoming Overthrust Belt

20

15

10

Figure 10

2o

formitieswithin basically parallel deposition. Localized Pennsylvanian tectonism disrupted the normal
carbonate patterns.
By Permian time the cratonic edge was a complex strike-slip margin with generally open marine
conditions to the west and topographically separated subbasins, causing more complicated facie pattern
in the Phosphoria Formation. (Tisoncik, in press). This disruption of the cratonic edge may have been
caused by the accretion of exotic western terranes such as the Stikinia,Cache Creek, and Shuswap.
Effectsfrom the accretion of the Sonoman and Roberts Mountain terranes of Nevada are not in
evidence. These concepts are very speculative, but there is little doubt that possible terrane accretion
by right-lateral translation did seal the area from normal, western open marine conditions by
Triassic time.
In Triassic time, arid nonmarine to shallow marine conditions prevailed, culminating with regional
dune deposition of the Nugget Formation and anhydritdsalt deposition later in the Jurassic. Early
Sevier mountain building formed an orographic barrier to moisture-providing westerly winds at these
latitudes. Isostatic loading of the craton by eastward (relative) advancing thrust systems caused the
development of the Cretaceous Rocky Mountain geosyncline or foretrench (Jordan, 198l), and
resulted in thick marine Cretaceous deposition between the Sevier front and the cratonic carbonate
platforms in the east.
Many of the Cretaceous rocks involved within the Wyoming salient thrusts are synorogenic,
proximal clastics that are not of source rock quality, particularly in the western systems. Where thrusts
advanced over deeper, Cretaceous marine sequences, there was increased maturation in subthrust
source rocks. Angevine and Turcotte (1983) have modeled this maturation for various thicknesses of
allochthonous warm plates and concluded that maturation of the Cretaceous source rocks followed
thrust emplacement and that migration was of a short distance into upper plate structural reservoirs.
The Cretaceous source beds are the main source for upper plate hydrocarbon accumulations
(Warner, 1980).
Tertiary fluvial and lacustrine deposition occurred both in front of the Hogsback and Prospect
systems as well as in listric normal fault systems of the thrusted belt. Thicknesses up to 10,000 ft
(3030 m) are found in some of these half-graben features. Even greater thicknesses were deposited in
the Bear Lake area where strong basin and range tectonism caused more significant normal fault
displacements.

tion at the Nugget Sandstone level. Improvement of seismic data and better regional seismic coverage
has resulted in the successful drilling of numerous anticlinal closures concealed beneath irregular
Tertiary lacustrine basins and complexly detached Cretaceous and Jurassic units. Figure 9 shows the
fields of the Overthrust Belt with their year of discovery. One to five discoveries have been made each
year since 1975.
One regional production characteristic is the predominance of sour gas in the western Absaroka
trend and the more oil-rich sweet production of the eastern Absaroka trend. Common to both are oiland gas-prone Lower Cretaceous source rocks in the sub-Absaroka block. Therefore, it appears that
reservoir modification of the hydrocarbons is the cause of this sourhweet relationship.

SEISMIC INTERPRFiTATION

HISTORY OF PETROLEUM EXPLORATION

Key Reflectors
The formations on the seismic line identified as key reflections (dashed horizons of Figs. 3,5) are
the Jurassic Nugget and the Cambrian Gros Ventre. It should be noted that the Nugget Formation is
a very poor reflector and is being identified only because of its prolific producing capability. Most
reflections identified on seismic as the Nugget Formation are probably members of the overlying Twin
Creek Formation.
The seismic correlation chart (Fig. 6) provides a detailed display of formations and their reflection
characteristics. Generally, the events which are most easily mapped on thrustbelt seismic are the base
of the Tertiary rocks (unconformity), the Jurassic Twin Creek Formation, the Triassic Ankareh
Formation, the Permian Phosphoria Formation (at lower frequencies the large amplitude is probably
due to the tuning effect of the Triassic Dinwoody Formation), and the Cambrian Gros Ventre
Formation. Reflections can also occur, however, along fault planes. An example of this can be seen
along the Absaroka Thrust beneath Whitney Canyon Field and between the Whitney Canyon and
Ryckman Creek fields (Figs. 3,5), where the thrust is a strong reflector with Cretaceous events
angularly truncated beneath it.
The interpretation of this seismic line (Figs. 3,5) was performed by identdying rock boundaries and
gross packages, rather than attempting a detailed interpretation which could not be presented at this
scale. This is particularly true on the leading edge of the Darby Thrust where no attempt was made to
identify every fault within the zone of imbrication. Also, rather than forcing an interpretation across
zones of no data retrieval, discontinuities in reflections were honored, leaving the complete interpretation to the geologic cross section (Fig. 10).

The Overthrust Belt of western North America has had very sporadic petroleum exploration and
only two segments of these effortshave provided success. The Canadian Foothills successful exploration
began with the Turner Valley discovery in 1913, and Wyoming overthrust success began with Pineview Field in 1975 (Petroleum Exploration, 1981). The Wyoming salient with 20 fields at this time
has large reserves (Powers, 1983) which are not yet firmly established because of geologic complexity
and continuing activity. Rocks of every geologic epoch from Ordovician to Cretaceous have the
capability to contain oil; however, the Jurassic Nugget and the Mississippian Madison formations are
volumetrically the most significant. Years of frustration were experienced by overthrust before
the discovery of Pineview Field, and the only production was from shallow Cretaceous rocks of the
Fossil sub-basin; exploration was then related to surface geology and oil seeps. Dlfficulty in obtaining
usable seismic data and interpreting the complex disharmonic structural relationships hindered resolu-

WelI Control
Seven wells were used in the interpretation of the seismic line and are identified on Figures 3
and 5. Those wells that are more than 1,500 ft (457 m) off the line are identified by a dashed borehole
signifying that their tops were projected. The remaining wells were treated as being on the line and
provided a direct tie into the seismic section.
The well selected for the seismic correlaton correlation chart in Figure 3 is actually projected in
from the Church Buttes Field, nine mi (1 4.5 km) away. This well, the Church Buttes Unit Well No. 19
(sec. 8, T16N, R112W) was logged from surface to a total depth of 19,509 ft (5,946 m) and provides
excellent geophysical and geological information (formation identification, velocity control, reflection
character) from the Tertiary to the Cambrian Gallatin Formation. Although the well does not tie the
seismic perfectly because of stratigraphic thickening occurring over the nine mi (14.5 km) projection, it

Williams and Dixon


J

Wyoming Overthrust Belt

does provide a relatively undisturbed representation of stratigraphy that could not be found elsewhere
along the seismic section.
Problems Unique to the Area
Many of the problems encountered in the interpretation of thrustbelt seismic data fall into the realm
of pitfalls (Tucker and Yorston, 1973). The problems originate from the attempt to take complex thrustbelt geology, which in the real world is three-dimensional, and represent this in a two-dimensional,
time-domain display.
Specific velocity problems in the area canbe attributed to some or all of the following:
1) Lateral changes in Tertiary rock thickness and composition.
2) Differential mini-thrust movements within the hanging wall of the major thrust.
3) Paleozoic (and Mesozoic) strata thrust over Cretaceous (and Tertiary) sedimentary rocks.
4) Varying shapes and thicknesses of salt diapirs.
5) Overthickening of shale packages in the autochthonousblock due to lateral piercement
(leading edge of the Darby Thrust).
The counterpart to velocity problems is geometry. Specifically these include (for a 2-D seismic
line):
1) offcline energy contribution from 360 about the line.
2) Diffractions from the numerous faults on (and off) the line.
3) Imaging problems due to steep dips and overturned beds (refer to Ryckman Creek, east limb,
Fig. 2).

CONCLUSIONS
There is a Latin phrase worth remembering when the interpretation of a 2-D (and 3-D for that
matter) seismic line in the thrustbelt is about to be undertaken. The expression is caveat emptor,
or let the buyer beware. Rather than accepting the subsurface geologic cross section implied from
the time section, it should be realized immediately that a depth conversion will oftentimes present a
completely differentpicture. Wells have been drilled in the Overthrust Belt on subthrust velocity
pull-ups (looked like an anticline), buried focus effects (looked like an anticline), and ray path distortions (data drop-out zone looked like a fault). Many of the more obvious pitfalls (Tucker and
Yorkston, 1973) can be avoided by incorporating the following information in every seismic interpretation: structural styles and area trends, surface geology, well information, geologicaVgeophysica1
models, and depth conversion and migration of the seismic data. The result will be a more accurate
and correct interpretation.

SEISMIC ACQUISITION AND PROCESSING


Special Acquisition Techniques
The eastern part of the line in Figure 2 was recorded with a group interval of 440 ft (134 m) under
the assumption of monoclinal dip with no structural complications. The remainder of the line was shot
with a 220 ft (67 m) group interval, 48 channel, split spread corfiguration. Single hole patterns of
50 pound (22.7 kg) charges at 140 ft (42.7 m) depths were used at every third station to achieve an
eight fold coverage.
The line was acquired in 1972 by Amoco; and although no special acquisition procedures were
employed, the quality of the line is quite good.

21

Special Processing Techniques


The processing procedures that generated the stacked section include: datum statics, gain recovery,
instrument dephase, spectral whitening, velocity analysis, surface consistent statics, first break mute,
stack, time variant filter and scale. Wave equation migration (finite difference method) was applied to
the stacked section using five smoothed velocity functions along the line, which was then filtered and
scaled.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors gratefully acknowledge the cooperation and encouragement of Champlin Petroleum
Company in the search for more understanding of regional overthrusts. We also thank the many
workers in this area for their suggestions and individual interpretations which were utilized in
generalizations.

REFERENCES CITED
Angevine, C.L., and Turcotte, D.L., 1983, Oil generation in overthrust belts: American Association
of Petroleum Geologists Bull., v. 67, p. 235-241.
Burchfiel, B.C., and Davis, G.A., 1975, Nature and controls of Cordilleran orogenesis, western United
States; extensions of an earlier synthesis: American Journal of Science, v. 275A, p. 363-396.
Coney, PJ., 1973, Plate tectonics of marginal foreland thrust-fold belts: Geology, v. 1, p. 131-134.
Dickinson, W.R., 1976,Sedimentary basins developed during evolution of Mesozoic-Cenozoic arctrench system in westem North America: Canadian Journal of Earth Science, v. 13, p. 1268-1287.
Dixon, J.S., 1982, Regional structural synthesis, Wyoming Salient of western Overthrust Belt:
American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bull., v. 66, p. 1560-1580.
Jordan, T.E., 1981,Thrust loads and foreland basin evolution, Cretaceous, western United States:
American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bull., v. 65, p. 2506-2520.
Lowell, J.D., 1977, Understanding origin for thrust-fold belts with application to the Idaho-Wyoming
belt: Wyoming Geological Assoc. 29th Ann. Field Conf. Guidebook, p. 449-455.
Misch, P., 1960, Regional structural reconnaissance in central-northeast Nevada and some adjacent
areas; observations and interpretations: Intermountain Assoc. Petroleum Geologists and Eastern
Nevada Geological Society, 11th Ann. Field Conf. Guidebook, p. 17-42.
Petroleum Exploration, 1981, The Overthrust Belt - 1981: publ. by Petroleum Information Corp.,
251 p.
Powers, R.B., 1983, Petroleum potential of wilderness lands in Wyoming-UtaheIdaho thrust belt:
U.S. Geological Survey Circular 902-A-P, Betty M. Miller, editor, p. N1-N14.
Tisoncik, D.D. (in press), Regional lithostratigraphy of the Phosphoria Formation, western Overthrust:
Rocky Mountain Assoc. Geologists, Rocky Mountain Source Rock Symposium.
Tucker, P.M., and Yorston, H.J., 1973, Piefalls in Seismic Integretatiun: Society of Exploration-Gee
physicists, Monograph Series No. 2, Tulsa, Okla., p. 1 ff.
Warner, M.A., 1980, Source and time of generation of hydrocarbons in Fossil basin, western Wyoming
thrust belt (abs.): American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bull., v. 64, p. 800.

Bonneville County, Idaho


Seis-Port Mark VI Heliportable drills working in northern overthrust belt on proprietary program for Anschutz Corporation.
Photo by McAllister of Denver for Seis-Port Expl.

Paradox Basin
Parriott Mesa, Fold & Fault Belt, Seis-Port Mark VI Drills drilling 80' shot holes. A typical Heliportable rig weighs 1400 lbs and
can be moved in three lifts consisting of the engine, compression and skidmast unit by medium lift helicopters such as the Lama 315 B.

Photo by McAllister of Denuerfor Seis-Port Expl.

Williams and Dixon

Wyoming Overthrust Belt

22