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An Overview of the Northern Gulf of Mexico: Geology, Production Trends, Historical Development and Future Potential
The Continental Shelf of the Gulf of Mexico has been extensively explored and developed to an average subsea depth of 10,000 to 12,000 feet. A large portion of the original recoverable reserves have already been produced (66 percent of oil and gas of the Central Gulf). At present, annual production rate exceeds the yearly discovery of reserves. The quest for new reserves led the oil industry to venture into the exploration of the Continental Slope and deeper water areas. Exploration of the upper slope has met with great success in recent years. An overview of the geology of the Gulf Basin, spatial and temporal distribution of reserves and reservoirs, and production from previously explored production trends are presented in order to assess the future potential of the new frontier.
Until it reached its present form in Early Cretaceous (which is marked by carbonate reef formation), the Gulf of Mexico went through various stages of extensional stretching, evaporitic salt deposition, emplacement of oceanic crust and tectonic subsidence. The Cenozoic history of the Gulf is one of periodic progradational filling of the basin from the north. In response to continued loading by clastic wedges, Jurassic salt produced numerous flowage structures, including massive salt domes and diapirs in the shelf and upper slope areas. In the lower slope areas, the front edge of the salt often thrusted over younger sediments as a salt tongue and formed salt scarps as it reached the sediment-water interface. The position of salt scarps possibly shifted in response to a west to east lateral shift of depocenters during Miocene time. The majority of the structures suitable for trapping hydrocarbons resulted from salt movement, sediment-induced subsidence and growth faulting.
Suitable reservoir rocks, trapping mechanisms and geochemically favorable conditions for the preservation of hydrocarbons are believed to be present throughout the entire stratigraphic section -- from the Lower Tertiary to the Late Quaternary. The areas of high future hydrocarbon potential on the shelf include deep lower Middle Miocene and Lower Miocene of the Western and Central Gulf, Lower Pleistocene of the Central Gulf and shallow inner shelf sediments of Plio-Pleistocene and Miocene age. On the slope, the Middle Miocene to Plio-Pleistocene section is believed to be highly potential. The sedimentary section under the over-thrust salt tongues may provide an area of extreme interest for future exploration. Seaward extension of the Norphlet trend in the east Central and Eastern Gulf remains highly potential.
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