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Basin-centered gas systems

AUTHOR
Ben E. Law  Pangea Hydrocarbon
Exploration LLC, 12343 W. Louisiana Avenue,
Lakewood, Colorado, 80228;
belaw@worldnet.att.net

Ben E. Law

ABSTRACT
Basin-centered gas systems (BCGSs) are potentially one of the more
economically important unconventional gas systems in the world;
in the United States they contribute as much as 15% of the total
annual gas production. These regionally pervasive gas accumulations are different from conventionally trapped accumulations in
several respects. The basin-centered gas accumulations (BCGAs)
associated with BCGSs are typically characterized by regionally
pervasive accumulations that are gas saturated, abnormally pressured, commonly lack a downdip water contact, and have lowpermeability reservoirs. The accumulations range from single, isolated reservoirs a few feet thick to multiple, stacked reservoirs
several thousand feet thick. Two types of BCGSs are recognized; a
direct type, characterized by having gas-prone source rocks, and an
indirect type, characterized by having liquid-prone source rocks.
During the burial and thermal histories of these systems, the source
rock differences between the two types of BCGSs result in strikingly
different characteristics that impact exploration strategies. The majority of known BCGAs are the direct type. Exploration activity for
BCGAs is in the early stages and thus far has been focused in North
America. In other parts of the world, concepts of basin-centered
gas systems are poorly known, and exploration activity focused on
basin-centered gas accumulations is minimal.

INTRODUCTION
The global distribution of gas is not uniform. Some regions, like
Russia and the Middle East, have extremely large gas resources to
meet their energy demands, whereas other regions, like Japan and
Western Europe, have limited amounts of gas and must rely on
importing gas to meet their energy demands (DOE/EIA, 2002).
The increasing demand for energy in many parts of the world has
made it imperative to explore for and exploit unconventional oil
and gas resources. One of the larger and more economically viable
unconventional gas resources occurs in basin-centered gas accumulations (BCGAs). The BCGAs constitute a realistic, near-term
energy resource that has only recently been the focus of exploration.
However, with few exceptions, there is a generally poor understanding of BCGAs. Consequently, exploration efforts for this huge
Copyright 2002. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.
Manuscript received June 21, 2001; final acceptance June 6, 2002.

AAPG Bulletin, v. 86, no. 11 (November 2002), pp. 18911919

1891

Ben Law is a consultant and sole proprietor of


Pangea Hydrocarbon Exploration LLC. His
research interests include basin-centered gas
and coalbed methane systems. Prior to his
consulting position, he was a member and
chief of the U.S. Geological Survey Western
Tight Gas Sand Project and regional
coordinator of South Asia for the U.S.
Geological Survey World Energy Project. He
received B.S. and M.S. degrees from San
Diego State University, California.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I am grateful to my many U.S. Geological Survey and industry colleagues for their support
over the years. I am especially indebted to
Charles Spencer for his insights and collaboration on aspects of basin-centered gas systems
(BCGSs). A large part of the research was
funded by the U.S. Department of Energy under the very capable management of Karl
Frohne and William Gwilliam. The work also
benefited from periodic, constructive discussions and unpublished subsurface data provided by Bill Barrett, Bill Hanson, Greg Anderson, Doug Battin, Jeff Aldrich, John McIntyre,
and John Gustavson. Finally, the reviews by
Charles Spencer, Dale Leckie, and Bob Ryder
significantly improved the manuscript.

gas resource are not as effective as they might be. To


develop more effective exploration strategies for
BCGAs, it is necessary to modify traditional concepts
of petroleum systems and include concepts of nontraditional, unconventional petroleum systems.
In light of the extremely large gas resources contained in BCGAs and the need to satisfy increasing energy needs, the primary objective of this article is to
provide a comprehensive overview of BCGAs. More
specific objectives include clarification of gas-system
nomenclature, providing the elements and processes of
basin-centered gas systems (BCGSs), and discussing
the origins, geographic and stratigraphic distribution,
the gas resource, exploration strategies, and formation
evaluation. To accomplish these objectives, BCGAs
are discussed in the context of a petroleum system.

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT AND


CLASSIFICATION
Of all the different types of unconventional gas systems, none have been more poorly defined than
BCGSs. The problem of definition has led to misconceptions that have, in some cases, impeded exploration
efforts. When regionally pervasive gas accumulations,
like BCGAs, became known is uncertain; however, Silver (1950) alluded to pervasive gas accumulations in
Cretaceous rocks in the San Juan basin of New Mexico
and Colorado and recognized the gas-saturated nature
of the reservoirs and the downdip absence of water.
Later, the nuclear stimulation experiments conducted
in the United States from 1967 to 1973 seem to have
implied knowledge of the presence of regionally pervasive gas-charged reservoirs, although there are no
geologic reports confirming this assumption. Nuclear
detonations conducted in Cretaceous rocks in the San
Juan and Piceance basins of New Mexico and Colorado
were unsuccessful, and eventually, because of concerns
about environmental and radioactive contamination issues, the tests were abandoned (Randolph, 1973,
1974a, b, c).
The first published, unmistakable reference to this
type of gas accumulation was by Masters (1979). In his
article, Masters (1979) identified the basic concepts of
basin-centered gas accumulations, referring to them as
deep basin gas, and provided several defining characteristics of gas-saturated reservoirs in the Deep basin
of Alberta, Canada, and in the San Juan basin of New
Mexico and Colorado as examples of such accumulations. Later, in a publication edited by Masters (1984),
1892

Basin-Centered Gas Systems

the various geologic aspects of the so-called deep basin


gas accumulation in the Elmworth field of Alberta,
Canada, were provided. Other significant early articles
concerning BCGAs include those by Law et al. (1979,
1980) and Law (1984) in the Greater Green River basin of Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah, and McPeek
(1981) in the Great Divide basin of Wyoming. Spencer
(1985, 1989a) and Law and Spencer (1993) described
many of the attributes common to BCGAs. Several examples of so-called tight gas reservoirs (in most cases
equivalent to BCGAs) in the United States are provided in a volume edited by Spencer and Mast (1986).
Finley (1984) and Dutton et al. (1993) also described
many additional low-permeability reservoirs.
When the term basin-centered gas accumulations came into use is uncertain; however, the first
published reference to the term was by Rose et al.,
(1986) in a study of gas accumulations in the Upper
Cretaceous Trinidad Sandstone of the Raton basin. It
is likely, however, that the term basin-centered gas
accumulations had been informally used by industry
people prior to the first published reference of the
name.
The term tight gas sands has been widely used to
describe BCGAs for many years, and many exploration
geologists still use that term. In many cases tight gas
sands is an appropriate term; however, it is somewhat
ambiguous and may include gas accumulations that are
trapped as conventional, buoyant accumulations. The
use of the term deep basin gas (Masters, 1979) has
some problems also because all BCGAs do not occur
at great depths. For example, much of the gas production in the San Juan basin is from BCGAs at depths as
shallow as 3000 ft (914 m). More recently, the term
deep basin gas has been defined as those gas accumulations deeper than 15,000 ft (4572 m) (Dyman et
al., 1997); it is an economic definition and is not based
on geologic processes. Finally, the term continuous gas
accumulation (Schmoker, 1996), although accurately
portraying the pervasive nature of BCGAs, is too broad
and includes such gas systems as coalbed methane and
shale gas. In the absence of other suitable names, the
term basin-centered gas accumulation is used in this
article, although there are some BCGAs that appear,
at first glance, to contradict the definition. Gas fields
such as the Jonah field in the northern part of the
Green River basin in Wyoming and the Natural Buttes
field in the Uinta basin in Utah are examples of BCGAs
with downdip water contacts. These fields, in my opinion, are gas chimneys rooted in deeper, regionally pervasive BCGAs.

short/long
0.1

Seal

over-/underpressure hydrocarbon
capillary
variable cuts across
0.7% Ro
downdip from
generation
stratigraphy
water
over-/underpressure thermal cracking lithologic/capillary good
bedding parallel highly variable downdip from
of oil to gas
water
short
0.1

gas-prone type
III kerogen
Indirect liquid-prone types
I/II kerogen

Nature of
Upper
Boundary
Seal
Quality
Pressure
Mechanism
Reservoir
Pressure
Source Rocks

Direct and Indirect Systems


During the early burial and thermal histories of direct
and indirect systems, the reservoirs are, for the most
part, normally pressured, and the fluid phase in the

Type

Phase I

Reservoir
in-situ
Hydrocarbon
Permeability Migration
(md)
Distance

The developmental history of a BCGS may be viewed


as four reservoir pressure cycles. As a consequence of
the dynamic nature of geologic processes and the response to those processes, the phases discussed here
are geologically ephemeral. Figure 1 is a diagrammatic
representation showing these pressure phases and the
development of direct and indirect BCGSs. Meissner
(1978) and Law and Dickinson (1985) discussed these
phase changes for gas accumulations in low-permeability reservoirs.

Table 1. Attributes of Direct and Indirect Basin-Centered Gas Systems

SYSTEM DEVELOPMENT

Thermal
Maturity
Top of BCGA

A petroleum system, as defined by Magoon and Dow


(1994, p. 3), includes all the elements and processes
needed for an oil and gas accumulation to exist. In
Magoon and Dows (1994) definition, the elements include source rock, reservoir rock, seal rock, and overburden rock. Relevant processes include trap formation and the generation, expulsion, migration, and
accumulation of petroleum. A BCGS contains all of
these components; however, the magnitude and function of some of the components interact to form a
unique type of hydrocarbon accumulation.
In general, BCGAs are regionally pervasive accumulations that are gas saturated, abnormally pressured
(high or low), commonly lack a downdip water contact, and have low-permeability reservoirs. In the context of a petroleum system, there are two types of basin-centered gas systems: a direct type and an indirect
type (Law, 2000). The attributes of these two types of
systems are provided in Table 1. Direct and indirect
types of BCGSs are distinguished on the basis of source
rock quality; a direct BCGS has a gas-prone source
rock, and an indirect BCGS has an oil-prone source
rock. This fundamental difference, oil-prone vs. gasprone source rocks, leads to significantly different characteristics, as shown in Table 1. In addition to the two
types of systems, there may be hybrid systems in which
gas-prone and liquid-prone source rocks have contributed to the development of a BCGA.

Direct

Occurrence

BASIN-CENTERED GAS SYSTEMS

Law

1893

INDIRECT TYPE

SOURCE ROCK: Type III Organic Matter

SOURCE ROCK: Type I/II Organic Matter

Water-saturated,
Normal/Overpressuring

Water-saturated,
Normal/Overpressuring

>0.6% Ro

Gas Generation,
Expulsion, Migration

Oil & Gas Generation,


Expulsion, Migration

Entrapment,
Water Expulsion, Overpressuring

Entrapment

PHASE IV PHASE III

Thermal Cracking to Gas,


Fluid Expansion, Water
Expulsion, Overpressuring

Gas Loss, Temperature Reduction,


Underpressuring

Gas Loss, Temperature Reduction,


Underpressuring

Gas Loss, Water Imbibition,


Normal Pressure

Uncertain

pore system is 100% water saturated (Figure 1). Compaction of framework grains during this phase is an important process. The defining processes for each system, however, are different. For direct systems, phase
I terminates with the initiation of thermal gas generation, whereas the termination of phase I in indirect systems occurs with the initiation of thermal cracking of
oil to gas. Reservoir quality in indirect systems during
phase I is assumed to be relatively better than reservoir
quality in direct systems because buoyant accumulations of oil require better porosity and permeability.
During phase I there may be some cases in which
reservoir pressures are overpressured. Law and Spencer (1998) suggested that in the early burial stages of
a BCGA sequence, prior to the development of a recognizable BCGA, and in some depositional settings of
rapid sedimentation, compaction disequilibrium may
have been the initial overpressuring mechanism. In this
scenario, the pressuring fluid phase is water. However,
as the sequence experiences further burial and hotter
temperatures, the compaction disequilibrium pressure
mechanism may be replaced by hydrocarbon generation and the development of abnormally high pressures
characterized by pore fluids composed of gas and little
or no water. A possible example of the transition of
pressure mechanisms from compaction disequilibrium
to hydrocarbon generation may be present in Miocene
and Pliocene rocks in the Bekes basin (Spencer et al.,
1894

Basin-Centered Gas Systems

PHASE II

>1.35% Ro

PHASE IV PHASE III

PHASE I

DIRECT TYPE

PHASE I

BASIN-CENTERED GAS SYSTEMS

PHASE II

Figure 1. Schematic diagram


showing evolution of direct and
indirect basin-centered gas systems. Evolutionary phases are
shown along the side of each
system.

1994) and the Mako trench (B. E. Law, 2000, unpublished data) of Hungary. In these areas, Miocene and
Pliocene rocks are overpressured and possess many of
the distinguishing characteristics of a BCGA. The overpressures in Miocene rocks appear to be caused by
hydrocarbon generation, whereas overlying, overpressured Pliocene rocks appear to be in a transitional pressure phase between compaction disequilibrium and
hydrocarbon generation. In this case, a knowledge of
pore fluid composition (mainly gas or mainly water) in
the Pliocene sequence would offer considerable insight
in resolving the problem.
Phase II
Direct Systems
Direct systems require gas-prone source rocks and lowpermeability reservoirs in close proximity to each
other. As the source and reservoir rocks undergo further burial and exposure to increasing temperatures,
the source rocks begin to generate gas (Figure 1). Concomitant with increased gas generation, expulsion, and
migration, gas begins to enter adjacent, water-wet
sandstones. Because these sandstones have low permeability, the rate at which gas is generated and accumulated in reservoirs is greater than the rate at
which gas is lost. Eventually, as newly generated gas
accumulates in the pore system, the capillary pressure

of the water-wet pores is exceeded, and free, mobile


water is expelled from the pore system, resulting in the
development of an overpressured, gas-saturated reservoir with little or no free water. Examples of BCGA
systems exhibiting this overpressured phase include
the Greater Green River (Law, 1984), Wind River
(Johnson et al., 1996), Big Horn (Johnson et al., 1999),
and Piceance basins (Johnson et al., 1987) in the Rocky
Mountain region of the United States and the Taranaki
Basin in New Zealand (B. E. Law, 2000, unpublished
data) (Table 2).
Indirect Systems
In contrast to direct systems, indirect systems require
a liquid-prone source rock (Figure 1). Reservoir quality
in indirect systems is assumed to have been better than
in direct systems. In this case, oil and gas are generated
and expelled and migrate to reservoirs where they accumulate in structural and stratigraphic traps as discrete, buoyant accumulations with downdip water
contacts. With subsequent burial and exposure to
higher temperatures, the accumulated oil undergoes
thermal cracking to gas, accompanied by a significant
increase of fluid volume and pressures (Barker, 1990).
The level of thermal maturity at which oil is transformed to gas is commonly thought to be about 1.35%
vitrinite reflectance (Ro) (Tissot and Welte, 1984;
Hunt, 1996); however, some evidence, discussed in a
following section, indicates that the transformation
may occur at higher levels of thermal maturity. Alternatively, gas derived from thermally cracked oil within
a source rock may subsequently be expelled and migrate to low-permeability reservoirs (Garcia-Gonzales
et al., 1993a, b; MacGowan et al., 1993; Hunt, 1996).
Under these conditions of changing fluid volume and
pressure, the capillary pressure of the water-wet pore
system is exceeded, and, like pore pressures in direct
systems, the high pressures forcibly expel mobile, free
water from the pore system, replacing water with gas,
and the development of an overpressured BCGA ensues. An additionally important aspect of this phase is
the necessity for the presence of an effective lithologic
top seal in reservoirs formerly occupied by discrete oil
accumulations.

overpressured phase of direct and indirect systems


evolves into underpressured conditions. Both systems,
subsequent to the phase II history of overpressure, may
experience a period of uplift and erosional unloading
and/or heat flow perturbations. During, or subsequent
to, these burial and thermal history disruptions, some
gas is lost from the accumulation, and the overpressured gas reservoirs are subjected to reduced temperatures. The loss of gas, in conjunction with reduced temperatures, effectively results in the development of an
underpressured BCGA (Meissner, 1978; Law and
Dickinson, 1985). During this pressure transition,
Meissner (2000) emphasized the importance of gas loss
over temperature reduction as the dominant process.
Conjectural evidence concerning the integrity of
seals in direct vs. indirect systems implies that gas is
lost more easily from direct BCGAs than from indirect
BCGAs. Johnson et al. (1994) have shown that gas in
conventionally trapped accumulations in several Rocky
Mountain basins originated from BCGAs, demonstrating that loss of gas through relative permeability, capillary pressure seals does occur. Examples of underpressured, phase III direct systems include Cretaceous
rocks in the San Juan, Raton, and Denver basins, and
examples of underpressured, phase III indirect systems
include Lower Silurian reservoirs in the Appalachian
basin, Ordovician reservoirs in the Risha area of eastern
Jordan, and Cambrian and Ordovician reservoirs in the
Ahnet basin of Algeria (Table 2).
Phase IV
Phase IV is theoretical and may be more applicable to
direct systems because of the perceived, relatively better quality of seals in indirect systems than seals in direct systems. During phase IV, continued loss of gas
from capillary pressure seals in BCGAs is accompanied
by water slowly reentering underpressured, gas-bearing
reservoirs. Under these conditions, Meissner (1978)
and Law and Dickinson (1985) hypothesized that the
underpressured, gas-bearing reservoirs would eventually evolve into normally pressured, water-bearing reservoirs, thus completing the pressure cycle.

Phase III

SYSTEM ELEMENTS AND PROCESSES

At the point where direct and indirect systems are in


the overpressured phase (phase II), the processes involved in the transition to phase III are identical for
both systems (Figure 1). Phase III occurs when the

Source Rocks
Source rock quality is the fundamentally most important element distinguishing direct from indirect
Law

1895

Table 2. Selected Areas or Basins Containing Known or Suspected Basin-Centered Gas Systems
Area

Level of Certainty

Age

Type of system

Reference

NORTH AMERICA
Colville basin, Alaska
Central Alaska basins
Cook Inlet, Alaska
Norton Basin, Alaska
Alberta basin, Canada
Charlotte-Georgia Basin,
Canada
Willamette-Puget Sound Trough,
Washington and Oregon
Columbia basin, Washington
Modoc Plateau, California
Sacramento/San Joaquin
basins, California
Great Basin, Nevada
Snake River Plain, Idaho
Big Horn basin, Wyoming
Wind River basin, Wyoming
Greater Green River basin,
Wyoming

High
Low/Moderate
Low
High
High
Low/Moderate

Cretaceous
?
pre-Tertiary
Eocene/Paleocene
Cretaceous
Tertiary/Cretaceous

Direct ?
?
?
Direct
Direct
Direct ?

Popov et al., 2001


Popov et al., 2001
Popov et al., 2001
Smith, 1994,
Masters, 1979, 1984

Moderate/High

Tertiary

Direct ?

Law, 1996; Popov et al., 2001

High
Low/Moderate
Low/Moderate

Tertiary
Cretaceous
Cretaceous

Direct
Direct?
?

Law et al., 1994; Law, 1996


Popov et al., 2001
Popov et al., 2001

Low
Low/Moderate
High
High
High

Tertiary?
Tertiary ?
Lower Tertiary/Cretaceous
Cretaceous
LowerTertiary/Cretaceous

?
?
Direct
Direct
Direct

Hanna basin, Wyoming

High

Cretaceous

Direct

Powder River basin, Wyoming

High

Cretaceous

Wasatch Plateau, Utah


Uinta basin, Utah

Mod/High
High

Cretaceous
Direct
Lower Tertiary/Cretaceous Direct

Piceance basin, Colorado

High

Cretaceous

Direct

South Park basin, Colorado


Raton basin, New Mexico and
Colorado
Denver basin, Colorado

Mod/High
High

Cretaceous
Tertiary/Cret

Direct/Indirect
Direct/Indirect

High

Cretaceous

Direct/Indirect

High

Cretaceous

Direct

High

Permian

Indirect/Direct

Mod/High

Cretaceous

Direct

High

Pennsylvanian

Indirect

Low/Moderate

Precambrian

Indirect/Direct

Popov et al., 2001


Popov et al., 2001
Johnson et al., 1999
Johnson et al., 1996
Law et al., 1979, 1980; McPeek,
1981; Law, 1984; Law et al.,
1989
Popov et al., 2001; Wilson et
al., 2001
Surdam et al., 1994; Maucione
et al., 1994
Popov et al., 2001
Fouch et al., 1992; Fouch and
Schmoker, 1996; Popov et al.,
2001
Johnson et al., 1987; Spencer,
1987, 1989a
Popov et al., 2001
Johnson and Finn, 2001; Popov
et al., 2001
Higley et al., 1992; Popov et al.,
2001
Silver, 1950; Masters, 1979;
Huffman, 1996
Broadhead, 1984; Popov et al.,
2001
Johnson et al., 2001; Popov et
al., 2001
Al-Shaieb et al., 1994; Popov et
al., 2001
Popov et al., 2001

High

Pennsylvanian

Direct

San Juan basin, New Mexico


and Colorado
Permian basin, New Mexico
Albuquerque basin, New
Mexico
Anadarko basin, Oklahoma
Midcontinent Rift, Minnesota
and Iowa
Arkoma basin, Arkansa and
Oklahoma
1896

Basin-Centered Gas Systems

Meckel et al., 1992; Popov et


al., 2001

Table 2. Continued
Area

Level of Certainty

Age

Type of system

Reference

NORTH AMERICA continued


Gulf Coast, United States
East Texas basin, Texas

High
High

Cretaceous
Jurassic

Indirect
Indirect?

Popov et al., 2001


Montgomery and Karlewicz,
2001; Emme and Stancil, 2002
Popov et al., 2001

Black Warrior basin, Alabama


and Mississippi
Michigan basin, Michigan
Appalachian basin, eastern
United States

Mod/High

Pennsylvanian

Direct

Low/Moderate
High

Ordovician
Silurian/Devonian

?
Indirect

Popov et al., 2001


Davis, 1984; Law and Spencer,
1993, 1998; Popov et al.,
2001; Ryder and Zagorski,
forthcoming

Moderate
High

Devonian
?

?
?

Williams et al., 1995


Fernandez-Sevesco and
Surdam, 1997

High
High
Indeterminate

Permian
Carboniferous

Direct
Direct

Law et al., 1996


Law et al., 1998b

Miocene

Spencer et al., 1994

Permian/Carboniferous

Direct

Schegg et al., 1997

S. AMERICA
Chaco basin, Bolivia
Neuquen basin, Argentina

EUROPE
Timan-Pechora basin, Russia
Dnieper-Donets basin, Ukraine
West Netherlands basin,
Netherlands
Vlieland basin, Netherlands
Polish basin, Poland
Upper Silesian basin, Poland
Bekes basin, Hungary
German basin, Germany
Ruhr basin, Germany
Thuringian basin, Germany
Subhercynian basin, Germany
Lower Saxony basin, Germany
Saar-Nahe basin, Germany and
France
Rhine graben, Germany and
France
Nord-Pas-de-Calais basin,
France
Lorraine basin, France
Bresse basin, France
Southeast basin, France
Vienna basin, Austria and
Slovakia
Alpine Foreland basin,
Switzerland

Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Moderate/High
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
Indeterminate
High

Law

1897

Table 2. Continued
Area

Level of Certainty

Age

Type of system

Reference

ASIA-PACIFIC
Sichuan basin, China

High

Permian/Triassic

Direct?

Da-jun and Yun-ho, 1994;


Ryder et al., 1994

Ordos Basin, China


Jungar basin, China
Taranaki Basin, New Zealand
Gippsland Basin, Australia
Barrow Subbasin, Australia
Perth basin (onshore), Australia
Carnarvon Basin, Australia
Khorat Plateau basin, ThailandLaos

High
High
High
Moderate
High
Moderate
Low/Moderate
Low

Permian
Permian
Eocene
Lower Tertiary/Cretaceous
Jurassic
Jurassic
Permian
Triassic/Jurassic

?
?
Direct
Direct
?
?
?
?

Low/Moderate
Low

Precambrian
Cretaceous

?
Direct?

High

Ordovician

Indirect

Ahlbrandt et al., 1997

High
Moderate/High

Cambrian/Ordovician
Cretaceous

Indirect
Direct

Obaje and Abaa, 1996

Zha et al., 1999


Stainforth, 1984
He and Middleton, 2002
Crostella, 1995a
Crostella, 1995b
Smith and Stokes, 1997

SOUTH ASIA
Vendian basin, India
Suliaman range foreland,
Pakistan
MIDDLE EAST
Risha area, Jordan
AFRICA
Ahnet basin, Algeria
Benue trough, Nigeria

BCGSs and sets the stage for all subsequent differences


between the two systems. The source rocks for direct
BCGSs are most commonly humic-type coal beds and
carbonaceous shale, such as occur in Cretaceous rocks
in most Rocky Mountain basins or Carboniferous rocks
in Europe. Source rocks for indirect BCGSs are hydrogen-rich shales such as those in the Ordovician shale
in the Appalachian basin or in Silurian shales in the
Middle East and North Africa. Garcia-Gonzales et al.
(1993a, b), MacGowan et al. (1993), and Surdam et
al. (1997) concluded that some of the coal beds in the
Greater Green River basin of Wyoming (Upper Cretaceous Almond coal beds) generated liquid hydrocarbons that were subsequently thermally cracked to gas,
while still in the coal beds. They further speculated
that, because of the increased fluid volume associated
with the oil to gas transformation, high pressures created fractures within the coal beds, facilitating the expulsion of gas. The gas then migrated and accumulated
in low-permeability reservoirs. Law (1984) concluded
1898

Basin-Centered Gas Systems

that all, or most, of the gas in low-permeability reservoirs in the Greater Green River basin was sourced
from humic, type III organic matter contained in coal
beds and carbonaceous shale in several coal-bearing
Upper Cretaceous intervals. The relative contribution
of gas to BCGA reservoirs from these different processes is not known. In the Greater Green River basin
BCGA, the gas likely is dominantly sourced directly
from gas-prone, humic coal beds in the Lance, Almond, and Rock Springs formations, with a minor contribution from the cracking of oil to gas in Almond
Formation coal beds in the very deepest part of the
Great Divide and Washakie basins.
Reservoir Rock
Gas-charged reservoirs in direct and indirect BCGSs
are regionally pervasive, commonly encompassing several thousand square miles, and may consist of single,
isolated reservoirs a few feet thick or vertically stacked

reservoirs several thousand feet thick. Multiple,


stacked reservoirs are common in direct BCGSs,
whereas single, discrete reservoirs are common in indirect BCGSs. Direct and indirect reservoirs always exhibit low porosity (13%) and low, in-situ permeability (0.1 md) (Spencer, 1985, 1989a). They are
composed of sandstone, siltstone, and, to a much lesser
degree, carbonates; the only occurrence of a BCGA
carbonate reservoir known to me is in the Sichuan basin of China (Da-jun and Yun-ho, 1994). The environments of deposition of BCGA reservoirs range from
marine to nonmarine. Reservoirs are gas-saturated,
with little or no producible water, and are downdip
from water-bearing reservoirs (Figure 2), a reversal of
conditions found in conventional gas systems (Masters,
1979; Law, 1984; Spencer, 1985, 1989a).
The BCGS reservoirs can be divided into lenticular
and blanket reservoirs (Finley, 1984; Spencer, 1985,
1989a). Lenticular reservoirs, such as small, fluvial
channel sandstones, typically have a limited pore volume and very low permeability. In contrast, blanketlike reservoirs, such as braided stream, delta front, and
eolian sandstones, typically have very large pore volumes and relatively better permeability than lenticular
reservoirs. The distinction between these types of reservoirs becomes important when attempting to distinguish between gas- and water-bearing reservoirs and is
an important factor in the design of drilling and completion programs.
In thick, vertically stacked direct BCGA reservoirs,
interbedded water-bearing reservoirs are not uncommon. For example, the blanketlike Upper Cretaceous
Ericson Sandstone of the Mesaverde Group in western

Wyoming is a water-bearing reservoir interbedded


with a regionally pervasive BCGA. Additional examples in western Wyoming of interbedded, water-bearing reservoirs occur in the Upper Cretaceous Frontier
and Blair formations, Almond sandstone, and Lewis
Shale. Examples of water-bearing reservoirs also exist
in the Elmworth field BCGA, Alberta basin, Canada.
The Rollins and Trout Creek members of the Mesaverde Formation in the Piceance basin of Colorado are
blanket reservoirs that are water bearing (Johnson et
al., 1987). The occurrence of water in thick, BCGA
sequences is also possible through the introduction of
water along fractures and faults.
Seals
Where detailed work has been conducted in direct
BCGAs, gas-saturated reservoirs grade vertically,
across stratigraphic boundaries, as well as updip into
transitional, water- and gas-bearing zones that, in turn,
grade into normally pressured, water-bearing reservoirs
(Figure 2). In indirect BCGAs, gas-saturated reservoirs
grade updip into transitional, water- and gas-bearing
zones; however, vertical transitional zones across bed
boundaries do not occur, and there is an abrupt, distinct boundary between the abnormally pressured
BCGA and normally pressured, water-bearing reservoirs (Figure 2). The nature of these fluid boundaries
is related to seal integrity. Seals in BCGAs range from
lithologic to relative permeability, or water-block,
seals, referred to in this article as capillary pressure
seals. Capillary pressure seals generally occur in reservoirs that have very small pore throats and two or more

A.

DECRE

A S IN G

P O RO

B.

DECRE

A S IN G

P O RO

S IT Y &
PERM

S IT Y &
PERM

E A B IL IT

E A B IL IT

Normal pressured, water-bearing zone


Transitional water- and gas-bearing zone
Abnormal pressured, gas-bearing zone

Figure 2. Diagrammatic illustrations showing normal


pressured/water-bearing zones,
transitional water- and gasbearing zones, and abnormally
pressured/gas-bearing zones
for (A) direct and (B) indirect
BCGAs.
Law

1899

fluid phases. Under these conditions, the permeability


to each fluid phase is effectively reduced.
Because of the nature of seals in direct BCGAs, a
question arises concerning the integrity of the seal.
Based on burial and thermal history reconstructions,
capillary pressure seals in Cretaceous and Tertiary
BCGAs in the Rocky Mountain region are effective for
periods of time ranging from 25 to 40 m.y., the lapsed
time since formation of most BCGAs in the region.
However, as a consequence of the nature of these seals,
there is a perception that the seals are leaky and, given
sufficient time, will degenerate and become ineffective.
If the perception of a leaky seal over significantly long
periods of time is correct, then one might expect to see
a predominance of direct BCGAs in rocks that have experienced the formation of a BCGA within a few tens
of million years. Also, in a more general sense, one
would expect to observe a higher frequency of direct
BCGAs in younger rocks than in older rocks. Observations of known BCGAs are skewed toward Cretaceous
systems, largely because most of the work conducted on
BCGAs has been in Cretaceous and Tertiary rocks.
There are no detailed studies of seal integrity in preCretaceous BCGAs, although Ryder and Zagorski
(forthcoming) have concluded that the updip seal in the
Lower Silurian Clinton-Medina BCGA in the Appalachian basin is a water block. In indirect systems, it is
important to distinguish between vertical seals, top
seals, and updip seals; in the Clinton-Medina reservoir,
there is an apparently effective updip, capillary pressure
seal (Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming), whereas the
upper, top seal is a lithologic seal composed of evaporite, shale, and carbonate (Drozd and Cole, 1994).

The level of thermal maturity marking the transformation of oil to gas in indirect systems (initiation of
phase II on Figure 1) is uncertain. Conventional wisdom indicates that thermal cracking of oil to gas occurs
at about 1.35% Ro (Tissot and Welte, 1984; Hunt,
1996). Price (1997) questioned this value and concluded that the transformation of oil to gas occurred at
much higher levels of thermal maturity. More recent
kinetic studies by Tsuzuki et al. (1999) using hydrous
pyrolysis experiments also suggest that oil is stable over
higher levels of thermal maturity than previously
thought. Applying these kinetic parameters to burial
history curves in the United States Gulf Coast indicates
that oil cracking to gas starts at vitrinite reflectance
values of 1.75% Ro (M. D. Lewan, 2002, personal
communication).
In general, hydrocarbon migration distances in direct BCGSs are short, perhaps on the order of a few
hundred feet or less. The exception to short hydrocarbon migration distances may occur in cases where the
regional top of a BCGA has been ruptured, facilitating
vertical migration of gas along faults and fractures for
distances far greater than a few hundred feet, such as
in the Jonah field of western Wyoming, discussed in a
following section.
In indirect BCGSs, hydrocarbon migration distances are highly variable, similar to migration distances in conventional petroleum systems. Approximately 1000 ft (305 m) of vertical migration is
proposed for the Clinton-Medina BCGA (Ryder and
Zagorski, forthcoming). In direct BCGSs, gas is the
dominant migrating hydrocarbon phase, and in indirect
BCGSs, oil and gas may be expected to be the migrating fluid phases.

Hydrocarbon Generation, Expulsion, and Migration


Trap Formation
There is a large body of literature concerning hydrocarbon generation, expulsion, and migration (see Hunt
[1996] for detailed discussions). As depicted in Figure
1, the generation of hydrocarbons from source rocks in
direct and indirect BCGSs occurs at levels of thermal
maturity exceeding 0.6% Ro (Hunt, 1996). According
to Meissner (1984), thermal generation of gas from humic coal beds begins at 0.73% Ro. Peak generation may
occur at levels of thermal maturity between 0.80.9%
Ro (Tissot and Welte, 1984). In the Greater Green
River basin, measured levels of thermal maturity at the
top of direct BCGAs range from 0.7 to 0.9% Ro (Law,
1984), implying that source beds for the gas would have
levels of thermal maturity equal to or greater than 0.7
0.9% Ro.
1900

Basin-Centered Gas Systems

The development of a trap in the conventional sense


of a structural or stratigraphic trap is an important process in a petroleum system. In a direct BCGS system,
however, it is of secondary importance, whereas in indirect systems it is very important. In direct systems,
the top of gas accumulations cuts across structural and
stratigraphic boundaries (Law, 1984; Spencer, 1985;
Law and Spencer, 1993) and is, therefore, not normally
dependent on the development of structural or stratigraphic traps. The Jonah field of western Wyoming
(Figures 3, 4) is a good example of a direct BCGA in
which structural and stratigraphic aspects are important. The lateral boundaries of the field are defined by
faults (Montgomery and Robinson, 1997; Warner,

25

25

50
50

75 Miles

75 km

IN

D
RI

Merna well

R
M

U
SW

A
IN

Wagon Wheel
well

B E L T

VE

PINEDALE
ANTICLINE

EET

O V E R
T H R U S T

WAT

ER ARCH

Figure 3. Map of the Greater


Green River basin, showing major structural elements and the
locations of the Jonah field (Figure 4), the Belco 3-28 Merna
and El Paso Natural Gas 1
Wagon Wheel wells (Figures 7,
8), and cross section BB (Figure 6).

Jonah
Field

ARCH

BASIN
WA

MS U T T ER

ARCH

WASHAKIE

BASIN

B'

CHE
WYOMING
R OKEE
UTAH COLORADO

AX

IA

ARCH

SAND WASH BASIN


BA

SI

UP

1998, 2000). The top of the accumulation is defined


by a silty shale seal in the Upper Cretaceous Lance
Formation.
In the development of indirect BCGAs, a conventional structural or stratigraphic trap is necessary for
the accumulation of oil and gas, much the same way
as oil and gas accumulate in conventional, buoyancydriven accumulations. The development of indirect
BCGAs occurs at a later burial stage than direct systems, when conventionally accumulated oil is thermally cracked to gas, accompanied by a significant increase in pore fluid volume and pore pressure (Figure
1). Oil, however, does not always accumulate in discrete accumulations and may be disseminated throughout a reservoir. In such cases, the amount of oil in the
accumulation may not be present in sufficient quantity
to develop pore pressures high enough to form a
BCGA during the thermal conversion of oil to gas.
Thus, the formation of a suitable trap and the temporal
relationships among trap formation and gas generation,
expulsion, migration, and entrapment are critical processes in indirect systems.

LIF

RANGE

S
M IER
AD R
RE A

PARK

U N T A I N S
T A M O
U I N

PL IFT
S U

UPLIFT

MO XA

LIN

BASIN

ROCK SPRINGS

RIVER

RAW

GREAT DIVIDE
GREEN

EXAMPLES OF GAS SYSTEMS


To illustrate the elements and processes of direct and
indirect BCGSs, an example of each system is included
in the following discussion. Additional examples are
provided in Table 2.
Direct Type: Greater Green River Basin
The Greater Green River basin, located in southwestern Wyoming (Figure 3), is one of several foreland basins in the Rocky Mountain region containing BCGSs.
The stratigraphic interval containing the BCGS includes all of the Cretaceous sequence, locally extending into lower Tertiary rocks. Stratigraphic correlations
of lower Tertiary and Cretaceous rocks in the Greater
Green River basin are shown in Figure 5. For a comprehensive discussion of the stratigraphy and structure
of the basin see Ryder (1988). Estimates of in-place gas
resources contained in the BCGA within Cretaceous
and Tertiary rocks are as large as 5063 tcf (Law et al.,
1989), and the mean estimate of recoverable gas is
Law

1901

A.

R109W

R108W
36

31

R107W
31

nch

Fa

ult

36

T
29
N

ing

Wre

T
29
N

Bound
36

31

36

Wr

Bo

T
28
N

un

ch

31

ul t
1

ing

R109W

A'

T
28
N

R108W

A'

Middle

Lance

Baxter Shale

Jonah Field

ng

Ericson

Boundi

Rock Springs

TERTIARY

Ft. Union-Wasatch
MV

Lower Lance-Mesaverde

1. Area: 19,700 mi2 (51,000 km2)


2. Source rocks: Upper Cretaceous and lower Tertiary coal beds and carbonaceous shales in the Fort
Basin-Centered Gas Systems

Lance

Upper

W r e nch

W ren ch

Massive Mbr.
Coaly Mbr.-Sandy Mbrs.

119.3 tcf (Law, 1996). Additional references to a


BCGS in the Greater Green River basin include publications by Law et al. (1979, 1980), McPeek (1981),
Davis (1984), Law (1984), Keighin et al. (1989), Law
and Spencer (1989), Spencer (1989b), Surdam
(1992), Garcia-Gonzales et al. (1993a, b), MacGowan
et al. (1993), and Surdam et al. (2001). General characteristics of the Greater Green River basin BCGS are
as follows:

1902

Fault

Fault

SE

B ounding

Baxter

CRETACEOUS
MV
Lance

TERTIARY
Ft. Union-Wasatch

NW

CRETACEOUS

B.

en

Fa

Baxter

Figure 4. (A) Map of Jonah


field showing major faults and
location of cross section AA
through the Jonah field.
(B) Shaded areas along cross
section AA represent overpressured, gas-saturated reservoirs.
Relief on top of overpressuring
from outside the field area to
inside the field area ranges
from 2500 to 3000 ft (762914
m) (Warner, 1998). Figure
modified from Warner (1998).

Union, Lance, Almond, and Rock Springs formations. Organic matter is largely gas-prone type III
kerogen (Law, 1984) with additional contribution
from thermally cracked oils sourced from sapropelic coal beds (Garcia-Gonzales et al., 1993a, b;
MacGowan et al., 1993; Surdam et al., 1997).
3. Generation-expulsion-migration: late Eocenelate
Oligocene (4025 Ma)
4. Reservoir rocks: Cretaceous to lower Tertiary
sandstones. Multiple, stacked reservoirs occur in
rock intervals as thick as 14,000 ft (4267 m) (Figure 6). Individual reservoirs range in thickness
from 15 to 125 ft (4.638 m). Gas reservoirs are

LOWER

T E RT IARY

WEST

CENTRAL

EAST &
NORTHEAST

SOUTHEAST

Green River Basin

Rock Springs Uplift

Great Divide-Washakie Basin

Sand Wash Basin

Fort Union Formation

Fort Union Formation

Fort Union Formation

Fort Union Formation

Lance Formation

Lance Formation

unnamed
sandstone

unnamed
sandstone

unnamed
sandstone

Figure 5. Generalized stratigraphic correlation chart of Cretaceous and lower Tertiary


rocks in the Greater Green
River basin, Wyoming and Colorado (modified from Law et al.,
1989).

Lance
Fox Hills Sandstone

Formation

Lance
Formation
Ericson

Fox Hills
Ss.

Lewis
Shale
Almond Formation
Ericson

Fox Hills Sandstone


Lewis Shale

Lewis Shale
Almond Formation
Pine Ridge Sandstone

Allen Ridge Formation

Rock
Springs
Formation

UPPER

CRETACE O US

Sandstone

Sandstone

Williams Fork Formation


Iles Formation

Haystack Mountain Formation

Rock Springs
Formation

Blair
Formation

Mancos
Shale

Rock Springs
Formation

Mancos Shale
(main body)

Steele Shale
Baxter Shale

LOWER

Hilliard Shale

5.
6.
7.

8.

9.

10.

Frontier Formation

Frontier Formation

Mowry Shale

Mowry Shale

Bear River Formation


Cloverly Formation

Frontier Formation

Frontier Member
Mowry Member
Dakota Ss.

Mowry Shale
Muddy Ss.

Thermopolis Shale

Cloverly Formation

Thermopolis Shale

Cloverly Formation

saturated and contain water at irreducible levels.


The gas-bearing interval does not commonly contain interbedded, water-bearing reservoirs.
Porosity: 13%
Permeability: 0.1 md (in-situ)
Environments of deposition: mainly fluvial dominated and, to a lesser degree, marginal marine deltaic and barrier bar
Reservoir pressure: overpressured, with gradients
ranging from 0.5 to 0.9 psi/ft (Figures 7, 8) ( Law
et al., 1979, 1980; McPeek, 1981; Davis, 1984;
Law, 1984; Spencer, 1987, 1989b; Surdam et al.,
1997)
Seals: Regional seals are capillary pressure seals.
Locally, structural and stratigraphic seals are
important.
Gas accumulations: downdip from normally pressured, water-bearing reservoirs (Figure 2) (Law,
1984; Spencer, 1985); lacks a downdip water con-

Cedar Mountain Formation

tact (Law, 1984). The level of thermal maturity at


top of accumulation ranges from 0.7 to 0.9% Ro
(Law, 1984) (Figures 7, 8), commonly 0.8% Ro
(Law, 1984).
11. Depth to accumulation: ranges from 8000 to
11,500 ft (24383505 m)
12. Gas quality: Gas is of a thermal origin and generally composed of 90% methane, 5% ethane
and higher homologs, 5% carbon dioxide, and
negligible nitrogen. Condensate ranges from 5 to
70 bbl/mmcf gas.
13. Sweet spots: structural and stratigraphic
Indirect Type: Lower Silurian Clinton-Medina-Tuscarora,
Appalachian Basin
The Lower Silurian Clinton-Medina-Tuscarora BCGS,
located in the Appalachian basin (Figures 9, 10), is one
of the better documented examples of an indirect
Law

1903

FEET

Amoco
Champlin 530
Sec. 5, T15N R98W
Koch
Davis
1 Adobe Town
1 Chicken Springs
Sec. 20, T15N R97W
Sec. 21, T15N R100W

Gary
Willow Rim 36-10
Sec. 36, T15N R95W

Sinclair
1-3 Fair Fed.
Sec. 3, T14N R92W

FEET

8.000

6.000

6.000

Fo d
d
an
s s
on
er
m ing ion
xt
Al Spr mat
Ba
r
ck Fo
Ro lair
B

8.000

a le

le

on

r ti
Te
EARING OVERPRESSURE
is
TOP OF GAS- B
D ROC
I
Lew
K S on e
Fo
st
T.D. 9320
d
rm
n
d
a
n
S
a
at
io
lls
rk T.D. 10,000
er
n
Hi
Fo
ng
u
x
s
o
m
Fo
a nd y
llia
d
ele
an T.D. 12,793 Wi
Ste
n
o
i
T.D. 13,679
t
a
For m

-2.000

rm
al

Pr
es

-8.000

n ti

d
re

o
Fr

su

er

-10.000

r
Fo

No

ion
at

10
10

15
20

20 MILES

ic
ss
ra
Ju

-14.000

-18.000

T.D. 17,650

-12.000

-16.000

-2.000
-4.000

e
nc
La

No

-6.000

Sea Level

le
ha

S
ne
sto
nd
Sa

ale
Sh

-4.000

2.000

ale

cks
Ro
ar y

on

Sh

ic s

ni

Fo
r

tU

wi
Le

Er

Sea Level

Fo
r

Sh

n
io
at
rm

2.000

ma
tion

4.000

4.000

ow

ry
an

30 KM

Sh

ale

and
old er

rly
ve
Clo
ks
roc

rm
Fo

at

rm

P
al

res

-6.000
-8.000

d
ure

-10.000
-12.000

io n

-14.000
-16.000
-18.000

Figure 6. Cross section BB showing spatial distribution of BCGA superimposed on structure through the Washakie basin (modified
from Law et al., 1989). Shaded pattern shows overpressured, gas-saturated BCGA. Location of cross section shown on Figure 3.
TEMP. (F)
50

150

250

350

Cuttings
Core

Mud weight - mud log


Mud weight - well log
Mud weight - drillstem test
Temperature data point

DEPTH (feet 10 3 )

8
PRESSURE GRADIENT
10

10

TOP OVERPRESSURING

12

12
1.

14

i/f

14

16

ps

/ft

i/ft

si
5p

1.60

18

F/1

18

ps

0.6

0.4

TEMP.
GRADIENT

16

DEPTH (feet 10 3 )

t
00 f

20

A.

10

PRESSURE (PSI) 10 3

15

20

0.2

B.

0.4

0.6

0.8 1.0

2.0

3.0

20
4.0

VITRINITE REFLECTANCE (R o )

Figure 7. (A) Pressure and temperature and (B) vitrinite reflectance gradients for the Belco 328 Merna well, northern Green River
basin, Wyoming (from Law, 1984, reprinted by permission of the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists). Location of well shown
on Figure 3. Pressure gradient interpreted by C. W. Spencer.
1904

Basin-Centered Gas Systems

TEMP. (F)
200

300

Mud weight - mud log


Mud weight - well logs
Mud weight - drillstem test
Temperature data point

4
PRESS.
GRADIENT

DEPTH (feet 10 3 )

TOP OVERPRESSURING

10

10

12

12

14

14
1.
0
ps

0.6

16

i/f
t

ps

t
si/f
5p

i/ft

1 .6 0

16

0.4

TEMP.
GRADIENT

F /1 0 0

18

DEPTH (feet 10 3 )

100

18

ft

20

10

15

0.2

0.4

B.

VITRINITE REFLECTANCE (R o )

PRESSURE (PSI) 10 3

A.

0.6

0.8

1.0

2.0

3.0

20
4.0

Figure 8. (A) Pressure and temperature and (B) vitrinite reflectance gradients in the El Paso Natural Gas 1 Wagon Wheel well,
northern Green River basin, Wyoming (from Law, 1984, reprinted by permission of the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists).
Location of well shown on Figure 3. Pressure gradient interpreted by C. W. Spencer.

LAKE ONTARIO

IE

NEW YORK

PENNSYLVANIA

lat
mu

ion

cu

underpressured

ov e r p r e s s u r e d

sA
c

C'
?

Ga

cu

ed

dA
c

nt

er

bri
Ba

si

n-

Ce

Hy

onal
C o nv e n t i

OHIO

Acc

um

mu

ula

lat

tio

normal
pressured

ns

ion

LA

A
AD
N
CA USA

WEST VIRGINIA
0
0

50
50

100 mi
100 km

Figure 9. Location of ClintonMedina-Tuscarora basincentered gas system in the


Appalachian basin, showing the
normally pressured, underpressured, and overpressured parts
of the system, as well as areas
of conventional, hybrid, and
BCGA production (modified
from Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming). Cross section CC
shown on Figure 11.

F O R M AT I O N

SYSTEM S E R I E S

UPPER

Venango Group,
Bradford Group,
Elk Group, undivided

Ohio
Shale

Catskill
Fm.

D E VO N I A N

Brallier Fm.

4.

Harrell Fm.

Olentangy Shale

Tully Fm.

Hamilton Group

MIDDLE

Marcellus Shale

Delaware Ls. and


Columbus Ls., undivided

Onondaga Group

Bois Blanc Limestone

Huntersville Chert

Oriskany Sandstone

L OW E R

Helderberg Limestone
Keyser Limestone

Bass Islands Dolomite

Salina Group

MIDDLE

Rochester Shale
Dayton Limestone
L OW E R

Clinton
Sandstone
and Shale

Clinton Group
Medina
Group

UPPER

O R D OV I C I A N

5.
6.

Lockport Dolomite

Tuscarora
Sandstone

SILURIAN

UPPER

7.

8.

Queenston Shale

Juanita Fm.

Reedsville Shale
Utica Shale
Trenton Limestone
MIDDLE

Trenton Group

Black River Group


Loysburg Fm.
Wells Creek Fm.

Beekmantown Group
(upper part)

Figure 10. Geologic column of OrdovicianDevonian rocks in


eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, Appalachian basin
(modified from Law and Spencer, 1993).
BCGS. Estimates of recoverable resources range from
8.0 to 30.3 tcf (Gautier et al., 1996; McCormac et al.,
1996). For additional discussions of the Clinton-Medina-Tuscarora, refer to investigations by Davis
(1984), Law and Dickinson (1985), Laughrey and
Harper (1986), Zagorski (1988, 1991), Law et al.
(1998a), Ryder (1998), and Ryder and Zagorski (forthcoming). The critical elements in this system include
the following:
1. Area: Clinton-Medina part is 45,000 mi2 (116,550
km2); Tuscarora part is 30,000 mi2 (77,700 km2).
2. Source rock: Ordovician Utica Shale (Cole et al.,
1987; Drozd and Cole, 1994; Burruss and Ryder,
1998; Ryder et al., 1998). The Utica Shale contains type II kerogen and is thermally overmature
(1.3% Ro).
3. Generation-migration-accumulation: Late DevonianEarly Mississippian (370320 Ma) (Drozd
1906

Basin-Centered Gas Systems

9.

10.

11.

12.

and Cole, 1994; Laughrey and Harper, 1996; Nuccio et al., 1997; Ryder et al., 1998; Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming)
Reservoir rocks: Lower Silurian Clinton-Medina in
eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania and Tuscarora Sandstone in central Pennsylvania. The reservoir interval ranges in thickness from 100 to 600
ft (30183 m) (Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming).
The thermal maturity of the reservoir ranges from
1.1 to 2.0% Ro (Wandrey et al., 1997).
Porosity: 510% (Ryder, 1998; Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming)
Permeability: 0.1 md (Ryder, 1998; Ryder and
Zagorski, forthcoming)
Environments of deposition: Fluvial, estuarine,
and inner marine shelf in the eastern part to outer
marine shelf and tidal in the western part (Cotter,
1983; Brett et al., 1990; Castle, 1998)
Reservoir pressure: Reservoirs are normally pressured in the updip part of the Clinton-Medina in
eastern Ohio, producing oil, gas, and water (Figures 9, 11). In western Pennsylvania reservoirs are
underpressured and produce mainly gas with very
small amounts of water (Figures 9, 11). Ryder and
Zagorski (forthcoming) reported pressure gradients of 0.390.25 psi/ft in the underpressured part
of the system. In central Pennsylvania, the Tuscarora Sandstone, equivalent to the Clinton-Medina,
is overpressured and produces gas with small
amounts of water (Figures 9, 11). Ryder and Zagorski (forthcoming) reported pressure gradients
ranging from 0.50 to 0.60 psi/ft in the overpressured Tuscarora Sandstone in central Pennsylvania. The variable pressure gradients within the
stratigraphic interval are shown in Figure 12.
Seals: The top seal is interpreted to be the shales,
carbonates, and evaporites in the overlying Upper
Silurian (Drozd and Cole, 1994). The updip seal
has been identified as a water block (Zagorski,
1988, 1991; Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming).
Gas accumulations: Downdip from normally pressured, water-bearing reservoirs; lacks downdip water contact (Figure 11)
Depth to accumulation: 6500 ft (1981 m) in western Pennsylvania to 12,000 ft (3658 m) in central
Pennsylvania (Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming)
Gas quality: Gas is interpreted to be a product of
thermally cracked oil (Law and Dickinson, 1985;
Law and Spencer, 1993; Law et al., 1998a; Ryder
and Zagorski, forthcoming). Gas in the ClintonMedina sandstone is generally composed of 79

WEST

EAST
OH

Allegheny structural front

PA

Conv.

Hybrid

normal
pressured

Basin-centered gas
underpressured

overpressured

Tuscarora Sandstone
Ordovician red beds

Lower Paleozoic

Clinton/Medina sandstone

carbonates
Oil
Gas

Basement faulting
(NOT TO SCALE)

Figure 11. Generalized cross section CC showing normally pressured, underpressured, and overpressured parts of the ClintonMedina-Tuscarora interval (modified from Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming). The underpressured and overpressured areas of the
Clinton-Medina-Tuscarora represent the indirect BCGA part of the interval where gas and minor amounts of water are produced, and
the normally pressured area represents the conventional part of the interval where oil, gas, and water are produced. The hybrid,
underpressured area represents transition from oil, gas, and water production in eastern Ohio to gas and minor water production in
the BCGA.

Globally, no resource data are available for BCGAs;


however, where estimates of in place gas have been
PRESSURE (kPa 103)
10

20

30

40

50

Wells

10.2 kPa/m
(0.45 psi/ft)

Fields

6
2

13.6 kPa/m
(0.60 psi/ft)

6.9 kPa/m
(0.30 psi/ft)

DEPTH (ft 103)

The underpressured reservoirs in the ClintonMedina are interpreted to have undergone an earlier
overpressured phase caused by the thermal transformation of oil to gas (Law and Dickinson, 1985; Law
and Spencer, 1993; Law et al., 1998a; Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming). Later, during a period of regional
uplift accompanied by loss of gas and reservoir cooling,
the overpressured, gas-bearing Clinton-Medina underwent a transition to an underpressuring phase. The overpressured, gas-bearing Tuscarora Sandstone reservoirs in central Pennsylvania are interpreted to be
pressure remnants of the earlier overpressured phase
in the Clinton-Medina (Law et al., 1998a; Ryder and
Zagorski, forthcoming).

GAS RESOURCES

DEPTH (m 103)

94% methane; 312% ethane, propane, and C4


hydrocarbon; and 39% nitrogen and carbon dioxide (Burruss and Ryder, 1998; Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming). In the Tuscarora Sandstone,
gas is commonly dry (C1 /C15 0.980.99),
with nitrogen and carbon dioxide contents of 4
22% and 183%, respectively (Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming).
13. Sweet spots: structural and stratigraphic

10

12
1

PRESSURE (psi

103)

Figure 12. Composite pressure gradient showing pressure


end members (normal, underpressuring, and overpressuring relationships) within the Clinton-Medina-Tuscarora interval (modified from Law et al., 1998a).
Law

1907

Table 3. Estimates of In-Place Gas Resources in Tight and Basin-Centered Gas Accumulations in the United States*
Basin
Greater Green River
Uinta
Piceance
Wind River
Big Horn
Denver
San Juan
Ozona
Sonora
Edwards Lime
Cotton Valley Sweet
Cotton Valley Sour
Ouachita
Other
TOTAL

FPC 1973

FERC 1978

Kuuskraa et al. 1978

NPC 1980

ICF 1990

USGS 1987, 1989

240
207
149

596

240
210
150

63

663

91
50
36
3
24
19
15

24

53
14
5

334

136
20
49
34

13
3
1
4
14
22

481
777

287

17

31

335

5036

423
995
334

6788

*FPC Federal Power Commission (Supply-Technical Advisory Task Force, 1973); FERC Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Supply-Technical Advisory Task
Force, 1978); NPC National Petroleum Council (1980); ICF ICF-Lewan, Inc. (Haas, 1990); USGS U.S. Geological Survey (Johnson et al., 1987, 1996, 1999;
Law et al., 1989). All values in tcf gas.

made the resources are very large: in-place gas resource


estimates in the United States for a given BCGA are
generally greater than 10 tcf (Table 3). Unfortunately,
no comprehensive gas resource data exist for all
BCGAs in the United States, in large part because
BCGAs are not recognized as a distinct type of gas accumulation. However, an appreciation for the magnitude of the resource can be determined from estimates
of in-place and recoverable gas in selected areas of the
United States. Previous assessments of in-place gas in
so-called tight and basin-centered accumulations in the
United States are shown on Table 3. Using a volumetric methodology approach, in-place gas resources for
the Piceance (Johnson et al., 1987), Greater Green
River (Law et al., 1989), Wind River (Johnson et al.,
1996), and Big Horn basins (Johnson et al., 1999) in
the Rocky Mountain region were estimated at 6788 tcf.
In-place gas estimates in other basins range from 334
to 777 tcf (Table 3).
There are even fewer published estimates of recoverable gas. In the United States, the National Petroleum Council (1992) estimated 232 tcf of recoverable gas from so-called tight reservoirs with current
technology and 349 tcf of gas with advanced technology. In 1995, the U.S. Geological Survey (Gautier et
al., 1996) included as part of their National Assessment
several plays in seven basins that were determined to
contain BCGAs. In that assessment, in-place gas re1908

Basin-Centered Gas Systems

sources were not estimated, and a methodology developed by Schmoker (1996) for estimation of recoverable gas was used. Estimates of recoverable gas from
those basins are 223.55 tcf (Table 4). If all of the basins
in the United States containing BCGAs would have
been assessed, it is highly probable that the total recoverable gas in BCGAs in the United States would
exceed 400 tcf.
Production figures for the United States, like gas
resource assessments, are uncertain; however, the estimate that most accurately reflects gas production

Table 4. Estimates of Recoverable Gas in Basin-Centered


Accumulations in the United States*
Basin
Greater Green River
Uinta-Piceance
San Juan
Denver
Appalachian
East Texas
Columbia River
TOTAL

USGS, 1996

NPC, 1992

119.3
16.74
21.15
3.16
44.97
6.03
12.2
223.55

232

*USGS U.S. Geological Survey (Johnson et al., 1996); NPC National Pertoleum Council (1992). All values in tcf gas.

as areas outside North America, is shown in Table 2.


The geographic distribution of BCGAs is probably best
known in the Rocky Mountain region, where a considerable amount of research has occurred.
Worldwide, there are only a few references available alluding to the presence of BCGAs (Table 2).
Many more areas undoubtedly contain BCGAs, but
because of the poor understanding of the concepts of
BCGSs in countries outside North America, the global
distribution of BCGAs is poorly known. For example,
in North America, many Rocky Mountain basins contain direct BCGAs. By analogy with Rocky Mountain
basins, it is likely that many of the Andean foreland
basins of South America also contain BCGAs. Several
of the basins in the Middle East and North Africa probably contain indirect BCGAs similar to those in Jordan
and Algeria.
The stratigraphic distribution of BCGAs extends
from the Cambrian through the Eocene (Table 2).
However, there appear to be some differences in the
stratigraphic distribution of direct and indirect
BCGAs. For example, the preponderance of direct
BCGAs occur in Cretaceous through Eocene rocks

from BCGAs in the United States is provided by the


Gas Research Institute (GRI). Gas production from socalled tight gas sands in 1996 (the last year for which
there are records) was 3.35 tcf (Hill, 2000), approximately 17% of total United States production. This figure, however, may be misleading because all so-called
tight gas sands are not necessarily BCGAs; discrete,
buoyancy-driven gas accumulations may occur in some
tight gas sands. With this caveat under consideration,
I estimate 15% of annual gas production in the United
States is from BCGAs, the largest, gas-producing contributor of all unconventional gas accumulations.

SPATIAL AND TEMPORAL DISTRIBUTION


The global distribution of BCGAs is poorly known, and
knowledge of the stratigraphic distribution of BCGAs
is incomplete. Even in North America, where most of
the exploration activity for BCGAs has occurred, the
geographic distribution is not well known. Figure 13
shows the locations of known and suspected BCGAs
in the United States. A tabulation of these areas, as well

Columbia Basin
WillamettePuget Sound
Trough

Bighorn Basin
Wind River Basin

Modoc Basin

SacramentoSan Joaquin
Basins

Crazy Mtns. Basin

Powder River Basin

Snake River
Plain

Greater
Green River
Basin
Great Basin

Uinta-Piceance
Basins

Midcontinent
Rift

Michigan
Basin

Hanna Basin

Appalachian Basin
South
Park

Denver Basin

San Luis Basin


Anadarko
Basin Arkoma Basin

San Juan Basin


Raton
Basin
EspanolaSalton
Trough Albuquerque
Basin

Black Warrior
Basin
Permian
Basin

Fort Worth Basin


East Texas &
North Louisiana Basin

Colville Basin
Norton
Basin

Val Verde Basin

Gulf Coast Basin

Maverick Basin

Interior
Basins

0
Cook Inlet
Basin

400 miles
400 km

Figure 13. Map of the United States showing the geographic distribution of known and potential BCGAs.
Law

1909

(Table 2), whereas indirect BCGAs more commonly


occur in pre-Cretaceous rocks. Although some of the
apparent difference in stratigraphic distribution may
be attributable to the disproportionate number of studies in Cretaceous and younger rocks compared to numbers of studies in pre-Cretaceous rocks, the question of
seal integrity in direct systems arises. As previously discussed, the effective life of capillary pressure seals in
direct systems is not known; therefore, because of the
perceptions of a leaky seal in direct systems, the occurrence of direct systems in pre-Cretaceous rocks may
be less common than in Cretaceous and younger rocks.
Some examples, however, of pre-Cretaceous direct
BCGAs include Permian rocks in the Timan-Pechora
basin, Russia (Law et al., 1996), and the Sichuan basin,
China (Da-jun and Yun-ho, 1994); Pennsylvanian
rocks in the Arkoma basin (Meckel et al., 1992); and
Carboniferous rocks in the Dnieper-Donets basin,
Ukraine (Law et al., 1998b) (Table 2).
Indirect BCGAs occur in rocks ranging from Cambrian through Cretaceous. Examples include Cambrian and Ordovician reservoirs in the Ahnet basin of
Algeria, Ordovician reservoirs in Jordan (Ahlbrandt et
al., 1997), Lower Silurian reservoirs in the Appalachian basin (Davis, 1984; Law and Dickinson, 1985;
Zagorski, 1988, 1991; Law and Spencer, 1993; Law et
al., 1998a; Ryder and Zagorski, forthcoming), and Jurassic sandstone reservoirs in the Bossier Shale (Montgomery and Karlewicz, 2001; Emme and Stancil,
2002) in the United States Gulf Coast (Table 2).

FORMATION EVALUATION
All BCGA reservoirs require carefully designed drilling
programs and some type of artificial stimulation for
commercial production rates. Reservoir continuity is
an important consideration in the design of an appropriate drilling and completion program. Single, lenticular reservoirs have limited volume and are generally
not commercial, whereas single, blanket reservoirs
have much larger volumes and may be commercial,
but, because blanket reservoirs commonly have better
reservoir quality than lenticular reservoirs, they may be
water bearing, as discussed previously.
In lenticular, fluvial-dominated reservoirs, such as
those in the Jonah field in the northern part of the
Green River basin of Wyoming or the Rulison field in
the Piceance basin of Colorado, it is imperative to stimulate as many reservoirs as possible to attain commercial rates of gas production. The completion practices
1910

Basin-Centered Gas Systems

in the Jonah field provide a good example of commingling production from multiple, lenticular reservoirs
(Finch et al., 1997; Eberhard, 2001); as many as 28
sandstones are perforated and fractured (Montgomery
and Robinson, 1997). In a similar manner, gas production from multiple sandstone reservoirs in the Upper
Cretaceous Williams Fork Formation in the Piceance
basin of western Colorado is commingled following
multiple fracture treatments in an interval about 2400
ft (732 m) thick (R. E. Mueller, 2002, personal
communication).
Early attempts to produce from blanket reservoirs
were mixed. Massive hydraulic fracturing techniques
using 300,000 lb of proppant were used in an attempt
to create long fractures. However, the large fracture
treatments commonly resulted in shorter fracture
lengths than predicted because of fracturing out of the
reservoir into adjacent, nonreservoir rocks (Spencer,
1989a). This problem has, in some cases, been modified by adjusting pumping rates of the fracture fluids.
Natural fractures are important factors in successfully completing a well. The probability of a vertically
drilled hole intersecting fractures is considerably less
than horizontal or slant holes. For example, at the U.S.
Department of Energy Multiwell Experiment site in
the Piceance basin of Colorado, a slant hole was drilled
through lenticular gas reservoirs. The hole was then
deviated to horizontal in a blanket reservoir. Fifty-two
fractures were reported from 266 ft (81 m) of core
taken from the slant hole part of the hole. In contrast,
a nearby vertically drilled hole penetrating the same
slant hole interval encountered one fracture, and, in
the horizontally drilled part of the hole, 37 fractures
were reported from 115 ft (35 m) of core (Lorenz and
Hill, 1991). In a more recently drilled 14,950 ft (4557
m)deep well in the Green River basin of Wyoming,
more than 400 open fractures were detected on a Formation MicroImager log from a 1750 ft (533 m)long
horizontally drilled leg in the Upper Cretaceous Frontier Formation (Krystinik and Lorenz, 2000). In the
same well, approximately 76 natural fractures were recorded from a 78.2 ft (23.8 m)long core taken from
the same horizontal leg (Lorenz and Mroz, 1999).
From these two examples, the probability of encountering fractures in slant or horizontal wells vs. vertically
drilled wells is well documented. The cost of drilling
nonvertical wells, however, is considerably greater
than the cost of drilling vertical wells.
Reservoir damage is another important aspect of
formation evaluation. Spencer (1985) listed several
different types of reservoir damage, including (1)

movement of secondary clays causing plugging of pore


throats, (2) swelling of smectitic clays, (3) increasing
water saturation with consequent reduction of relative
permeability to gas, (4) fracturing gel compounds left
in the reservoir, and (5) chemical additives causing precipitation of minerals and compounds during acidizing
and hydraulic fracturing. The potential problem of
swelling clays, in most cases, is minor, because most
BCGAs occur in sequences where the level of thermal
maturation is sufficiently high to convert swelling clays
into nonswelling clays.

EXPLORATION STRATEGY
The objective of any hydrocarbon exploration program
is to progress from coarse, loosely defined ideas to refined, drillable locations. In the case of BCGAs, exploration strategies are no different and may be viewed as
a four-step process that includes (1) reconnaissance,
(2) confirmation, (3) delineation, and (4) sweet spot
identification. The exploration phases are mostly applicable to direct BCGAs; as a consequence of the relatively new classification of BCGAs into direct and indirect types, strategies for indirect BCGAs have not
been formulated, although it is obvious that source
rock considerations, level of thermal maturation, and
temporal relationships among hydrocarbon generation,
expulsion, migration, and trap formation are very important considerations in the exploration for indirect
BCGAs.
Reconnaissance Phase
The reconnaissance phase entails the identification of
basins that may contain BCGAs. In direct systems,
identification of source rocks is critical. For example,
the identification of humic, gas-prone coal beds is the
most obvious source rock for direct BCGAs; in nearly
every country with coal reserves, there are some published data concerning geographic distribution, rank,
and thickness. The rank of coal beds must be greater
than high-volatile C (greater than vitrinite reflectance
values of 0.6% Ro) to initiate thermal generation of gas
(Hunt, 1996).
The existence of reservoirs with appropriate quality is another important aspect to consider during the
reconnaissance phase. In most cases, coal-bearing intervals are associated with interbedded sandstones that
have low porosity and permeability, especially at diagenetic stages commensurate with thermal maturity

levels greater than 0.6% Ro. Sandstones deposited in


alluvial plain, coal-bearing environments typically have
poor reservoir properties. High porosity and permeability in reservoirs are not desirable attributes for the
development of a BCGA. In basins where some drilling
activity has occurred, gas shows are also very helpful.
Confirmation Phase
Once a basin containing a potential BCGA has been
identified, the task becomes one of confirmation. Because all BCGAs are abnormally pressured, the principal task during this phase is the determination of reservoir pressure and the mechanism of abnormal
pressure. Most basins do not have sufficient quantity
or quality of pressure data for this determination.
Therefore, a combination of attributes listed on Table
1 can provide compelling evidence for the presence of
abnormal pressure and a BCGA. Pore pressure indicators such as pore fluid composition (gas with little or
no producible water) in conjunction with porosity
(13%), permeability (0.1 md), thermal maturation
(0.7% Ro) data, and sustained gas shows are very useful. In some cases, sonic velocity data have been used
to indicate the presence of abnormal pressures (Surdam et al., 1997, 2000, 2001; Surdam, 1997).
Although the determination of abnormal pressure
is important, it is equally important to determine the
mechanism of abnormal pressure. For direct BCGAs,
the pressure mechanism is hydrocarbon generation
(Spencer, 1987), and for indirect BCGAs, the pressure
mechanism is thermal cracking of liquid hydrocarbons
to gas (Law, 2000). A useful criteria for determining
the pressure mechanism is through a knowledge of the
composition of pore fluids: pore fluids in direct and
indirect systems are composed of gas with little or no
producible water (Spencer, 1987; Law and Spencer,
1993), whereas in abnormally pressured reservoirs,
where the composition of pore fluid is mainly water,
the pressure mechanism may be one of several other
mechanisms, thereby precluding a hydrocarbon-generation mechanism and presence of a BCGA.
Formation resistivity and spontaneous potential
curves measured on geophysical well logs also have
been used to indicate the presence of a BCGA. In Upper Cretaceous rocks in the San Juan basin and Mesozoic rocks in the Alberta basin, resistivities greater
than 20 X were reported to be gas saturated (Masters,
1979). Zagorski (1988, 1991) noted that the boundary
between conventional and BCGA reservoirs in northwestern Pennsylvania could be distinguished at 80 X;
Law

1911

reservoirs with high water saturation were defined by


resistivities 80 Xm, and reservoirs within the
BCGA have resistivities 80 Xm. In Upper Cretaceous rocks in the Greater Green River basin, spontaneous potential curves are commonly reversed in abnormally pressured BCGAs (Law et al., 1979, 1980;
Law, 1984).

ceance basin, Colorado (Northrop et al., 1984; Spencer and Keighin, 1984; Law and Spencer, 1989). Regional mapping using some of these indirect
parameters can then be used not only to determine
the stratigraphic and areal distribution of the BCGA
but also to help identify areas of enhanced reservoir
quality, or sweet spots.

Delineation

Sweet Spot Identification

The delineation phase entails mapping the vertical and


areal distribution of the gas accumulation. The preferred way of accomplishing this phase is through the
use of reliable pressure data. In most basins, however,
pressure data are absent or of such low quality that
reliable maps cannot be constructed; consequently,
some indirect method may have to be used. The selected mapping parameter should be one that has
been calibrated to well-documented pressure data. For
example, thermal maturity values ranging from 0.7 to
0.9% Ro were determined to be coincident with the
top of overpressuring in the Greater Green River basin (Law, 1984). In later work, 0.8% Ro was used to
map the depth to the top of overpressuring in the
basin (Pawlewicz et al., 1986; Law et al., 1989). Johnson et al. (1987, 1996, 1999) used a value of 0.73%
Ro to map the top of the gas- and water-bearing transition zone above gas-saturated reservoirs in the Piceance basin of Colorado and the Wind River and Bighorn basins of Wyoming.
To determine an accurate, reliable mapping
method, a detailed study of a small area within the
basin is recommended rather than a broad-based regional study. For the detailed study, a small representative area with relatively complete, high-quality data
should be chosen. Comprehensive, multidiscipline investigations including stratigraphic, structural, source
rock, reservoir rock, pressure, thermal history, petrophysical, and well log analyses should then be conducted within the selected area. The objective of this
comprehensive investigation is to establish a type area
or analog for the entire basin to which incomplete or
fragmentary data from other parts of the basin can be
compared. From such analog studies, indirect mapping tools, such as levels of thermal maturity, presentday temperature, and log responses, may be determined. Examples of such analog studies include the
Pacific Creek area in the Greater Green River basin
(Law et al., 1979, 1980), the Wagon Wheel well in
the Greater Green River basin (Law and Spencer,
1989), and the Multiwell Experiment site in the Pi-

Although a few BCGAs are commercially productive


over their entire areal extent, such as the San Juan
basin of Colorado and New Mexico, most BCGAs are
not commercially productive over their entire area.
Consequently, areas within the BCGA of enhanced
reservoir quality (sweet spots) must be identified.
These sweet spots may be structural or stratigraphic
in nature and always occur within the abnormal pressure envelope. In addition, they most likely occur near
the upper boundary of the BCGA.
In Figure 6, the top of overpressure and BCGA
in the Washakie basin is shown as a fairly smooth,
uniform line cutting across structural and stratigraphic
boundaries. In this case, if very closely spaced pressure
data were available along the line of section, the pressure boundary would most likely not be as smooth as
shown but would probably be highly irregular, with
significant areas of high relief. The areas of high, positive relief, or bumps, may be indicative of structural
and/or stratigraphic sweet spots that occur at or near
the upper boundary of the BCGA. In the absence of
closely spaced pressure data, it is difficult to identify
a sweet spot. However, some techniques can be used
to identify and focus more expensive techniques such
as three-dimensional (3-D) seismic surveys. Those
techniques may include lineament, thermal maturity,
and present-day temperature mapping. Aeromagnetic,
gravity, and surface geochemical surveys also may be
useful in the identification of potential sweet spots.
Surdam (1997) and Surdam et al. (1997) described
methods employing sonic logs to identify sweet spots
in several basins in Wyoming.
The best example of a BCGA structural sweet
spot is the Jonah field in the northern part of the
Green River basin, Wyoming (Figures 3, 4). As previously discussed, the Jonah field is a gas chimney,
rooted in a regionally pervasive BCGA described by
Law (1984) and producing from multiple sandstone
reservoirs in the Upper Cretaceous Lance Formation.
Alternatively, Cluff and Cluff (2001) have interpreted
the Jonah field to be a remnant of a larger, much more

1912

Basin-Centered Gas Systems

105

104

GE

7
0.

RAN

0.8
0.7

NT

0.

0.

W Y O MIN G

N E BRA SK A

0.

0.

0.

0.6

FRO

103

Cheyenne

0.6

CO L O RA D O

41

0.
5

0.6

0.6
0.7

0.8
0.9
1.0
1.1

2
1. 1.3
1.4

CMB

0.

Wattenburg Field
6

0.
0.8

0.5
40

0.7

0.4
0.5

0.6

0.6
0.7
0.8

shallow BCGA than presently identified. The Jonah


field is a wedge-shaped area with the north, south, and
west boundaries of the field defined by westward converging faults (Figure 4). The eastern boundary is undefined. The geologic characteristics of the Jonah field
are given by Montgomery and Robinson (1997) and
Warner (1998, 2000). According to Warner (2000)
the top of overpressure (top of gas-saturated reservoirs) within the field occurs at depths of 7700 ft
(2347 m) at the west end of the field (updip end of
field) and 9500 ft (2896 m) at the east end of the
field (downdip end of the field). Outside the field, the
top of overpressure and gas-saturated reservoirs occur
at depths ranging from 11,200 to 11,600 ft (3414
3536 m) (Warner, 2000). Thus, there is 25003000
ft (726914 m) of relief on the top of overpressuring
from outside the field to inside the field (Figure 4).
The gas chimney has subsequently been identified
through the use of sonic velocity data (Surdam et al.,
2001).
A good example of a thermal maturity anomaly
associated with a sweet spot is the Lower Cretaceous
Muddy (J) Sandstone in the Denver basin of Colorado. Regional thermal maturity mapping in the Denver basin of Colorado (Higley et al., 1992) shows the
presence of an anomaly associated with a BCGA (Figure 14). The anomaly, defined by reflectance values
greater than 0.9% Ro, is nearly coincident with the
field boundaries of production from the Muddy Sandstone in the Wattenburg field. The anomaly is located
north of the structurally deepest part of the basin and
is coincident with the northeast projection of the Colorado Mineral Belt. The field is also coincident with
a temperature anomaly mapped by Meyer and McGee
(1985).
Because the top of a BCGA is determined, in part,
by permeability variations and the ease with which gas
may move through reservoirs, measured levels of thermal maturity at the top of a BCGA may provide indirect evidence of the presence of a sweet spot; relatively low values of thermal maturity (0.8% Ro) at
the top of an overpressured BCGA are indicative of a
potential sweet spot, whereas relatively high values of
thermal maturity (0.8% Ro) are indicative of very
low permeability in an overpressured BCGA. Based
on vitrinite reflectance profiles from two wells within
the Jonah field (Warner, 1998), the level of thermal
maturity at the top of overpressured, gas-saturated
reservoirs is less than 0.7% Ro, compared to 0.8% Ro
outside the field. Thermal maturity indices, however,
cannot be used to identify potential sweet spots in

0.6

Denver
0.9

Isoreflectance, Muddy (J) Ss. 0


Contour interval: 0.1%Rm.
0

50 miles
50 km

Rm sample location

Figure 14. Thermal maturity map of the Denver basin, Colorado, showing the large thermal maturity anomaly in the Cretaceous Muddy (J) Sandstone in the Wattenburg field (modified from Higley et al., 1992). The field is nearly coincident with
the 0.9% isoreflectance contour (Higley et al., 1992). The location of the anomaly is also coincident with the basinward projection of the Colorado Mineral Belt (CMB).

underpressured BCGAs. The level of thermal maturity at the top of an underpressured BCGA most likely
is higher than the level of thermal maturity at the top
of an overpressured BCGA because the dimensions,
or size, of a BCGA are reduced during the transition
from overpressure to underpressure. Consequently,
the level of thermal maturity at the top of an underpressured BCGA reflects that size constriction.
Stratigraphic sweet spots are more difficult to discern than structural sweet spots because detailed facies mapping requires close-spaced to moderately
spaced subsurface data. An example of a stratigraphic
sweet spot includes the Upper Cretaceous Almond
Formation in the Washakie basin of southwest Wyoming, where reservoirs in the upper, marginal marine
part of the formation are typically much more productive than reservoirs in the lower, fluvial-dominated
part of the formation. Additional stratigraphic sweet
spots include sandstones within the Upper Cretaceous
Lewis Shale in the Great Divide basin and the
Law

1913

Frontier Formation along the structural crest of the


Moxa arch in the Green River basin.
Finally, based on empirical observations, there appears to be a relationship between producibility and
the nature of abnormal pressure; overpressured BCGA
reservoirs generally require the identification of sweet
spots for commercial production, whereas underpressured reservoirs are regionally productive and do not
require the identification of sweet spots. The best examples of regionally productive gas production from
underpressured systems occur in Upper Cretaceous
reservoirs in the San Juan basin of New Mexico and
Colorado and in the Lower Silurian Clinton-Medina
reservoirs in the Appalachian basin of Pennsylvania.
However, sweet spots, even in underpressured
BCGAs, are desirable features to identify. The reasons
for this apparent relationship between producibility
and the nature of abnormal pressure are uncertain. Perhaps reservoir quality is slightly improved during the
transition from an overpressured system to a underpressured system.

OUTLOOK
In 1978 the Natural Gas Policy Act provided incentive
prices and, later, tax credits for gas production from
coal, shale, and low-permeability sandstone reservoirs
in an attempt to stimulate the development of gas from
unconventional, marginally economic reservoirs.
Those incentives, along with significant funding from
the U.S. Department of Energy for research and development of tight gas sands, were instrumental in unlocking a gas supply that has had and will have a significant impact on the energy needs of the United
States and the world. At the end of 1992 the incentives
expired, and there was some skepticism in the industry
concerning continued gas production without some
economic help. However, new technological gains, an
improved geologic and engineering understanding of
tight gas sands, and higher gas prices have combined
to make BCGAs (tight gas sands) a very attractive exploration objective. In the United States and Canada,
exploration and exploitation of this huge gas resource
has experienced considerable success, and activity
should accelerate over the next several years. Internationally, exploration activity is currently minimal but
likely will increase in the near future. As the concepts
of BCGSs become better known outside North America, there will be an increased focus on the tremendous
potential of this gas resource.
1914

Basin-Centered Gas Systems

RESEARCH RECOMMENDATIONS
As previously discussed, gas production from BCGAs
is currently making a significant contribution to the energy needs of the United States, and the future role of
BCGSs will be significant; however, some large obstacles must be addressed for this type of unconventional
gas system to meet or surpass expectations. In order
for BCGAs to play an increasing role in the energy requirements of the United States and the world, the
following topics and problems need to be addressed:
An effective global education program is essential to
stimulate and expand exploration programs beyond
the United States and Canada; traditional concepts
of petroleum systems need modification.
In many basins, BCGAs occur at depths greater than
10,000 ft (3048 m). Artificial stimulation at these
depths is difficult and expensive. Although there
have been significant improvements in drilling and
completion technologies within the past 20 yr, continued advances in technologies are essential to tap
the very large gas resources at these depths.
In thick, gas-saturated reservoirs containing interbedded water-bearing reservoirs, improved techniques are needed to discriminate between gas-bearing and water-bearing reservoirs.
The integrity of capillary pressure seals over long periods of geologic time needs to be determined.
More geologic research into the occurrence of
BCGAs, especially indirect types, is desirable. Essentially no information is available concerning the nature of or exploration strategies for indirect BCGAs.
Methods of identifying and characterizing natural
fractures must be improved.
Relationships among kerogen type, thermal maturity, initiation of gas generation, peak gas generation,
transformation of oil to gas, and volumetric fluid
changes accompanying the transition of oil to gas
need additional research.

SUMMARY
Basin-centered gas accumulations, a type of unconventional gas accumulation, are typically regionally pervasive accumulations encompassing hundreds or thousands of square miles and may occur as single, isolated
reservoirs a few feet thick or as multiple, stacked reservoirs several thousand feet thick. Some of the more
important distinguishing characteristics of BCGAs in-

clude abnormal pressures (over- or underpressured),


low-permeability reservoirs, and a general absence of
downdip water. Two types of BCGSs are recognized:
a direct type distinguished by having a gas-prone
source rock and an indirect type that has a liquid-prone
source rock. Direct systems commonly have leaky capillary pressure seals, whereas indirect systems have
more effective lithologic seals. Although the two systems have several similar attributes, the fundamental
difference between the systems, gas-prone vs. liquidprone source rocks, results in some dissimilar attributes
that require different exploration strategies. The
worldwide potential for major gas production from
BCGAs has not been fully appreciated, whereas in the
United States, gas production from these regionally
pervasive accumulations is a significant contributor to
the nations energy requirements and will likely increase in the near future.

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