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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists


The Mountain Geologist
Vol. 58 (2021), No. 2. (April), Pages 43-103

Stratigraphy and hydrocarbon resources of the San Juan Basin: Lessons for other basins, lessons from other basins

Bruce S. Hart


This paper examines the relationships between stratigraphy and hydrocarbon production from the San Juan Basin of New Mexico and Colorado. Abundant data and the long production history allow lessons to be learned, both from an exploration and development perspective, that can be applied in other basins. Conversely, as new play types and technologies are defined and developed elsewhere, the applicability of those tools in the San Juan Basin needs to be understood for well-informed exploration and development activities to continue.

The San Juan Basin is a Latest Cretaceous – Tertiary (Paleogene) structure that contains rocks deposited from the Lower Paleozoic to the Tertiary, but only the Upper Cretaceous section has significant hydrocarbon, mostly gas, production. Herein I make the case for studying depositional systems, and the controls thereon (e.g., basin development, eustasy, sediment supply), because they are the first-order controls on whether a sedimentary basin can become a hydrocarbon province, or super basin as the San Juan Basin has recently been defined. Only in the Upper Cretaceous did a suitable combination of forcing mechanisms combine to form source and reservoir rocks, and repeated transgressive-regressive cycles of the Upper Cretaceous stacked multiple successions of source and reservoir rocks in a way that leads to stacked pay potential. Because of the types of depositional systems that could develop, the source rocks were primarily gas prone, like those of other Rocky Mountain basins. Oil-prone source rocks are present but primarily restricted to episodes of peak transgression. A lack of suitable trapping mechanisms helps to explain the relative dearth of conventional oil pools.

Although gas production has dropped precipitously in the past decade, driven primarily by overabundance of gas supply associated with the shale-gas boom, the combination of horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing is being applied to revive oil production from some unconventional stratigraphic targets with success.

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