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AAPG Bulletin



State of stress in areas of active unconventional oil and gas development in North America

DOI: 10.1306/08102120151

State of stress in areas of active unconventional oil and gas development in North America

Jens-Erik Lund Snee1 and Mark D. Zoback2

1Department of Geophysics, Stanford University, Stanford, California; present address: Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, US Geological Survey, Denver, Colorado; [email protected]
2Department of Geophysics, Stanford University, Stanford, California; [email protected]


In this paper, we present comprehensive data on stress orientation and relative magnitude in areas throughout North America where unconventional oil and gas are currently being developed. We find excellent agreement between maximum horizontal principal stress (SHmax) orientations over a wide range of depths, using multiple methods. In all basins studied, we observed coherent stress fields that in some cases vary systematically from one part of a basin to another. In the Appalachian Basin in the eastern United States, SHmax is oriented northeast–southwest to east-northeast–west-southwest and the style of faulting is compressive, transitioning from reverse faulting in eastern Pennsylvania and New York to principally strike-slip faulting in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. In the midcontinent, central Oklahoma is characterized by an approximately east–west SHmax direction and strike-slip faulting. The Fort Worth Basin in northeastern Texas is characterized by normal–strike-slip faulting and a north-northeast–south-southwest SHmax direction. In the Midland subbasin of western Texas, SHmax is consistently approximately east–west and normal–strike-slip faulting is observed. Farther west, the Delaware subbasin of western Texas and southeastern New Mexico is characterized by normal faulting and SHmax rotates ∼150° clockwise from north to south. Marked changes in SHmax direction also occur across the Raton Basin of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, the Denver-Julesburg Basin in northern Colorado, and the Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah, likely associated with their location near the margins of extensional provinces. The new data sets we present help improve operational efficiency by constraining absolute stress magnitudes and the ideal azimuth to drill horizontal wells (i.e., perpendicular to the local SHmax orientation) and make it possible to predict which fractures and faults are likely to be activated during hydraulic stimulation.

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