Oil & Natural Gas Projects
Exploration and Production Technologies
Geologic and Other Controls of Hydrocarbon Occurrence in the SE Part of the Appalachian
The objectives of the project include a field and laboratory study of the properties
that control hydrocarbon occurrence in the Appalachian Basin. The goal is to develop
a more accurate picture of the region's reservoir architecture that could reveal
underground formations where producible oil may be trapped.
University of Tennessee
United States Geological Survey (USGS),
Colorado Springs, CO
The project is using the geologic, chemical and thermal history of the southeastern
Appalachian Basin to predict the location of new oil-bearing formations that
have eluded previous exploration and to develop models for future exploration.
Identification of potential oil-bearing reservoirs in the southeast Appalachian
Basin will provide independent operators in the region access to drilling and
exploitation opportunities for oil and gas in underexplored areas. The significance
of the project has been the discovery of the potential for oil in the footwall
deformation of Appalachian fold structures and identification of fairways beneath
the Cumberland Plateau and Highland Rim.
Previous work by the University of Tennessee and USGS led to significant discoveries
in the Appalachian region in an area comprising eastern Tennessee, south-western
Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southern West Virginia. These discoveries may
open up major exploration possibilities in geologic settings largely written
off by the major oil companies in the 1980s. Most of the known reservoirs in
the Appalachian Basin are located in the undeformed Plateau region, two are
in the Thrust Belt in Tennessee, and several are in Virginia and West Virginia.
The geological work will include stratigraphic analysis, structural modeling,
conodont analysis, geophysical interpretation, and vitrinite reflectance.
In the investigation of geologic controls of hydrocarbon occurrence in the southern
Appalachian Basin, project researchers:
- Used the Petroleum System Approach to understand the geologic controls of
- Attempted to characterize the parameters driving petroleum evolution.
- Sought to obtain more quantitative definitions of reservoir architecture
and identify new traps.
- Worked with USGS and industry partners to develop new play concepts and
geophysical log standards for subsurface correlation.
- Provided geochemical characterization of the hydrocarbons.
- Reservoir prediction models based on structure and stratigraphic analysis.
The drilling success rate for the Appalachian Plateau has been only 17% for
development wells and 10-12% for wildcat wells. Recent production from two fields-
Rose Hill and Swan Creek-piqued interest in the hydrocarbon potential of over-thrust
formations in the Appalachian Basin. The Petroleum System Approach was used
to study the lower Cambrian Rome Formation in Rome Trough in Kentucky; the Ordovician
Knox Group, which is the source of gas at Swan Creek; and the Middle Ordovician
and Mississippian carbonates in the fold belt and beneath the plateau.
A USGS study of Appalachian Basin conodonts, undertaken in connection with
the project, used the Conodont Alteration Index (CAI), which is based on color
changes caused by temperature and pres-sure. CAI has proved to be a valuable
key to identification of oil and gas presence, and mapping for predictive modeling
and drilling targets can be based on conodonts.
The project brought to light the previously unexplored Eureka structure, an
80 km long structure just east of the Eastern Cumberland escarpment. A single
well drilled in the 1990s by a major oil company was abandoned without adequately
exploring the potential of the area due to low oil prices at the time, despite
shows of both oil and gas. The current study has found that the Eureka structure
consists of a blind anticline beneath the surface thrust complex. The graben
structure in the Appalachian Valley and Ridge is analogous to rock structure
in the eastern Lubin Basin, Poland.
Vertical seismic profile (VSP) logs could provide the data necessary to identify
the sweet spots in potential plays throughout the region. However, no seismic
surveys currently are being conducted in the area, because they are too costly
for the small independents who operate there. One goal of the project is to
encourage exploration in the Appalachian Basin by demonstrating where seismic
surveys and VSP analysis will be the most likely to provide drilling targets
to larger independent operators.
The study identified drilling targets in the Ordovician Knox, Stones River,
and Nashville Groups. More than 10 plays analogous to the Swan Creek field success
were identified in Ordovician age rocks in the Appalachian Basin during the
project. Previous oil exploration in the region has been limited to younger
Current Status (December 2005)
Presentations were made at the AAPG Annual Meeting in Calgary in June 2005 summarizing
the results of the investigation of hydrocarbon reservoirs in the Southern Appalachian
Basin and the use of conodonts for prediction of reservoir quality. A summary
presentation was made at the Eastern AAPG in Morgantown, WV, in October 2005 [PDF-1.87MB].
This project was selected under the Broad-Based Agency Announcement Round 2,
Project Start: May 20, 2002
Project End: October 31, 2005
Anticipated DOE Contribution: $537,263
Performer Contribution: $134,316 (20% of total)
NETL Virginia Weyland (firstname.lastname@example.org or 918-699-2041)
U. of Tennessee Robert Hatcher (email@example.com or 865-974-6565)
Simplified geologic map of parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina,
Virginia, and West Virginia showing the major structures, geologic units,
cities, and physiographic provinces. The locations of the Eureka structure,
Rose Hill field, and Swan Creek field are also shown. Geology compiled and
slightly modified from thegeologic maps of Ketucky, Tennessee, North Carolina,
Virginia, and West Virginia published by the respective state geological surveys.