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Fault-seal analysis using a

stochastic multifault approach

William R. James, Lee H. Fairchild,
Gretchen P. Nakayama, Susan J. Hippler, and
Peter J. Vrolijk

We have developed a stochastic multifault method for analysis of
the impact of stratigraphic uncertainty on cross-fault leakage at
sand-sand juxtapositions. This method assumes that all sand-sand
juxtapositions leak across the fault. Stratigraphic uncertainty is
modeled by stochastic variation of stratigraphic stacking. Structural uncertainty is addressed through variation of the input. Our
objectives were to quantitatively predict the impact of uncertainties in stratigraphic and structural input and to simulate the complex system of structural spills and juxtaposition leak points that
control hydrocarbon contact levels in traps with stacked reservoir
systems and many faults.
Three examples demonstrate how this stochastic multifault
method has helped us evaluate uncertainty and understand complex
leak fill-and-spill controls. The Ling Gu prospect demonstrates that
widespread cross-fault leakage on two crestal faults with throw
changes that exceed seal thickness causes only a single hydrocarbon
column to accumulate in multiple-stacked reservoirs. This column is
controlled by a juxtaposition leak point on a third, deeper fault. We
have learned from examples like Ling Gu that the relative size of
throw change and seal thickness is a fundamental control on the
probability of cross-fault juxtapositions. An example at prospect A
demonstrates the sensitivity of hydrocarbon entrapment to small
faults in a sand-prone interval with thin seals. The prospect A
analysis shows that if seals are thin, faults or channel incisions below
seismic resolution can leak hydrocarbons out of stacked reservoirs
that are interpreted as unfaulted on seismic data. This introduced
significant predrill uncertainty and risk. Guntong field demonstrates
that a thin sand in a juxtaposed seal interval can introduce large
uncertainty in the prediction of hydrocarbon columns.
These examples and many other analyses using the method demonstrate how small changes in stratigraphic and structural input
to a fault-seal analysis can introduce significant uncertainty in the
predicted range of hydrocarbon volumes. Such uncertainties need to
be directly and systematically accounted for in a fault-seal analysis.
Copyright #2004. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.
Manuscript received June 12, 2003; provisional acceptance August 27, 2003; revised manuscript
received October 23, 2003; final acceptance February 18, 2004.

AAPG Bulletin, v. 88, no. 7 (July 2004), pp. 885 904


William R. James  ExxonMobil Upstream
Research Co., P.O. Box 2189, Houston, Texas
Bill James earned his B.S. degree in geology
from Earlham College and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University in 1968. He moved on to
careers at the Corps of Engineers and the U.S.
Geological Survey before starting at Exxon
Production Research (now ExxonMobil Upstream Research) in 1979. He worked there,
specializing in statistical applications in geology, assessment, and seal analysis, until his
recent retirement.
Lee H. Fairchild  4614 Baldwin Creek Dr.,
Mt. Hood, Oregon;
Lee Fairchild has a B.A. degree in geology from
the University of California, Berkeley, and an
M.S. degree and a Ph.D. from the University
of Washington. He joined Exxon Production
Research (now ExxonMobil Upstream Research)
in 1985, working on structural geology and
fault-seal analysis. In 1999, he moved to Starpath
Exploration as a geophysicist, prospecting in
south Texas. In 2001, he began an independent
consulting business.
Gretchen P. Nakayama  deceased
Gretchen Nakayama earned her B.S. and M.S.
degrees from the State University of New York,
Rochester, and her Ph.D. in geology from the
University of California, Davis, in 1990. She
started her career at Exxon Production Research
(now ExxonMobil Upstream Research) immediately, specializing in fault-seal analysis. We
are saddened by our recent loss of Gretchen
to cancer.
Susan J. Hippler  ExxonMobil Exploration
Company, 233 Benmar, Houston, Texas;
Susan Hippler has a B.A. degree in geology
from Augustana College and a Ph.D. from the
University of Leeds (1989). She then joined
Exxon Production Research (now ExxonMobil
Upstream Research) as an expert in fault-zone
characterization and fault-zone migration. She
transferred to ExxonMobil Exploration Co. in
1996, specializing in applications of integrated
trap analysis to exploration, development, and
production problems.

Peter J. Vrolijk  ExxonMobil Upstream

Research Co., P.O. Box 2189, Houston, Texas;
Peter Vrolijk earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees
from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his Ph.D. in geology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1982. In
1989, he joined Exxon Production Research
(now ExxonMobil Upstream Research), doing
research on a wide range of topics, including
most recently fault-seal analysis and fault
The authors thank ExxonMobil, its Malaysian affiliate ExxonMobil Exploration and Production
Malaysia Inc., Petronas, Sable Offshore Energy
Inc. and its partners Shell, Imperial Oil Ltd., and
ExxonMobil Canada for permission to publish
this paper. We thank Eric Schmidtke, Mohd.
Tahir Ismail, and Stan Malkiewicz for obtaining
permission. David Reynolds and David Phelps
provided material for the paper. Brooks Clark,
Steve Davis, and Rod Meyers helped formulate the goals and subject matter of the manuscript. Yao Chang and Brooks Clark were
instrumental in software development. Reviews by Eric Schmidtke, Emery Goodman,
Tom Hauge, Dave Reynolds, Tom Bultman,
George Ramsayer and AAPG reviewers Laurel
Alexander, Terrilyn Olson, Graham Yielding,
and John Lorenz improved this manuscript;
their time and dedication are greatly appreciated. The authors are indebted to our
many colleagues at ExxonMobil who have
greatly improved stochastic multifault analysis
through their discussions and application of
the technique.
Please direct inquiries regarding reprints or
further information to Peter Vrolijk.


Our application of traditional fault-seal analysis repeatedly encountered problems because of uncertainty in our stratigraphic
and structural input. Furthermore, we recognized that in systems
with numerous faults and stacked reservoirs, our traditional analysis methods were unable to simulate the extremely complex system of structural spills and juxtaposition leak points that control
hydrocarbon contact levels. This paper describes a method we developed to evaluate the impact of stratigraphic and structural uncertainty on our fault-seal analysis and the significant lessons that
we learned as a result of applying this approach.
Our traditional fault-seal analysis approach in a clastic section
has been to deterministically identify sand-sand juxtapositions at
faults, evaluate which will leak or seal, and consequently predict
the hydrocarbon fill of the reservoirs. This traditional analysis typically starts with the construction of fault-plane sections, which are
cross sections that depict the reservoirs on both sides of each fault
(also called Allan diagrams; Allan, 1989). Because beds are offset
across a fault, reservoirs can come in contact at the fault and potentially communicate with each other across the fault. This relationship is recognized on a fault-plane section by the intersection,
or juxtaposition, of the sands. We describe these fault-plane sections as deterministic because they depict a single stratigraphy that
is assumed to correctly depict the actual stacking of reservoirs and
seals. The stratigraphy is typically derived from a nearby well or
from seismic stratigraphic models or other sources if wells are not
available. Juxtapositions are important because leakage at juxtapositions may limit the accumulation of hydrocarbons in simple
fault-block traps. For this reason, juxtapositions are commonly referred to as leak points. If hydrocarbons fill a reservoir down to a
juxtaposition leak point, leak across the fault into the sand on the
opposite side, and then migrate away from the trap, then hydrocarbons can fill the reservoir no further, and the leak point fixes the
hydrocarbon contact. Furthermore, juxtapositions on internal faults
in a structural closure facilitate communication between reservoirs
in different fault blocks.
The second step in our traditional approach has been to evaluate the seal potential of fault-zone materials. Outcrop observations have shown that faults in clastic sequences typically have a
clay-prone gouge. Capillary seal by the gouge may impede the flow
of hydrocarbons across faults between juxtaposed sands. Traditional fault-seal analyses typically attempt to model this potential
using some algorithm to predict the sealing potential of gouge
(Downey, 1984; Bouvier et al., 1989; Jev et al., 1993; Gibson, 1994;
Yielding et al., 1997; Alexander and Handschy, 1998; Bretan et al.,
2003; Davies and Handschy, 2003; Davies et al., 2003; Gibson and
Bentham, 2003). In some cases, the analysis may include a prediction of the potential for enhanced seal from other processes such as
cementation. Fault-zone materials can be important when they seal
a juxtaposition that otherwise would allow hydrocarbons to migrate

Fault-Seal Analysis Using a Stochastic Multifault Approach

away from the trap because this allows hydrocarbons to

fill to a deeper level. Analyses of enhanced seal from
fault-zone materials are combined with juxtaposition
analysis to predict the level of fill of reservoirs in the trap.
We developed the stochastic multifault analysis
approach to address two key issues that we encountered with this traditional approach. The first issue is
that stratigraphic and structural uncertainty, which
causes uncertainty in the definition of juxtapositions
across faults, should be addressed systematically and
consistently. Stratigraphic uncertainty may arise from a
change in reservoir stacking patterns between the nearest well control and the prospect of interest, or because
there are no nearby wells, so that seismic facies or stratigraphic models provide the only stratigraphic constraint
at a prospect. Structural uncertainty is caused primarily
by a degradation in seismic quality near faults, a reduction in computer-contouring accuracy near faults,
or generally poor seismic resolution, although there
can be many other sources of uncertainty. We have
observed that there is commonly enough stratigraphic
or structural uncertainty that it invalidates the use of
deterministic fault-plane sections because these sections incorrectly depict juxtapositions.
The second issue is the need to simulate the extremely complex system of structural spills and juxtaposition leak points that control hydrocarbon contact
levels in multifault traps with stacked reservoir systems. The process of hydrocarbon fill and spill can be
quite complicated, even in simple structures. For example, Figure 1a shows a simple, faulted anticline with
three reservoirs and three fault blocks that are separated
by two faults. Reservoir A communicates with itself between blocks 1 and 2 at a leak point with an elevation of
1150 m. It then communicates with reservoir C at a leak
point on the second fault (1200 m) and with reservoir B
at a deeper leak point on the first fault (1230 m). For
simplicity, assume that hydrocarbons migrate into the
trap from the left into reservoir A. As reservoir A fills, it
first leaks to itself at the 1150-m leak point (Figure 1b),
then it connects to reservoir C at the 1200-m leak point
(dashed line, Figure 1b). Finally, it connects to reservoir B in block 1 at the 1230-m leak point (Figure 1c).
Ultimately, these leak points allow a common hydrocarbon column to accumulate in these reservoirs that is
controlled by a structural spill at 1240 m in reservoir C in
block 3 (Figure 1d). Thus, if reservoirs A and B in block 1
are the drilling target, we would expect them to have a
common contact that is controlled by a structural spill
in a separate sand at the opposite end of the structure.
Communication across three leak points on two faults

creates this common hydrocarbon system. In our experience, these fill-and-spill systems become so complex in multifault traps with many stacked reservoirs
that it is impractical (because of time constraints) or
impossible to identify them and predict the resulting
hydrocarbon contact using traditional fault-plane sections. A computerized method is needed to track fill
and spill at juxtaposition leak points and to determine
resulting contact levels.

Although it is important to generally understand the
procedure we follow to conduct an analysis, our approach is merely one of many that could be employed.
Consequently, the details of the software that we developed are less important than the issues (above) that
the software seeks to redress or the lessons that we
learned from its application.
Stochastic multifault analysis addresses the effect
of stratigraphic and structural uncertainty on cross-fault
leak where reservoirs are juxtaposed on faults. It does
not address dip leak along fault zones (instead of across
fault zones) or seal enhancement by fault gouge. Dip
leak appears to be prevalent primarily in areas where
effective stresses are conducive to tensile or shear failure in the fault zone (G. Yielding, 2003, personal communication). Consequently, we can generally anticipate
the cases in which it is likely to be important and account
for the process with a separate analysis.
Initially, we chose not to address the more complex problem of seal by fault-zone materials, because
we felt that we needed to establish whether it was
useful to incorporate uncertainty into a juxtaposition
analysis before undertaking this more difficult problem. Although we recognize that this is a shortcoming
of the approach, we concluded that it is prudent to
first test the utility of uncertainty analysis for the simpler juxtaposition problem before attacking the much
more complex problem of uncertainty in seal by faultzone materials. We incorporated into the software the
ability to seal any chosen set of leak points, which
provided a procedure to evaluate the potential effects
of sealing gouge. We have been surprised by the success that we have had using only juxtaposition analysis
that incorporates uncertainty, to such a degree that it
has caused us to undertake a reassessment of our analysis of gouge seal. This issue will be addressed in detail
in the discussion section.
James et al.



Fault-Seal Analysis Using a Stochastic Multifault Approach

Figure 1. (a) A simple, faulted anticline with three reservoirs (A, B, C). Reservoir A in block 1 communicates with itself at a leak point at 1150. It then communicates with reservoir
C in block 3 at a leak point at 1200 and with reservoir B in block 1 at a 1230 leak point. (b) Fill down to just below the first leak point at 1150 (green). Dashed line shows fill to just
below the second leak point at 1200. (c) Fill to just below the third leak point at 1230. (d) Maximum fill. The entire accumulation is controlled by a spillpoint in reservoir C, block 3
at 1240, so that there is one column with a common contact shared by reservoirs A, B, and C. Two-way white arrows denote leak points; green arrows are structural spillpoints out
of the trap. All depths are in meters. OWC = oil-water contact.

We chose two approaches to stochastic multifault

analysis: one that is one-dimensional (1-D) and another
that is fully three-dimensional (3-D). One-dimensional
models attempt to describe complex 3-D relationships
in a simple 1-D manner by having laterally uniform
stratigraphy and vertically uniform structure. The benefit of these simplifications is speed. Models can be
generated rapidly (typically in minutes to 1 hr) and
modified quickly for sensitivity analysis. The limitations of this approach are that complex structural and
stratigraphic relationships such as significant downdip fault throw gradients or channelized stratigraphic
bodies are simulated by indirect constructs, instead
of geometrically correct definitions. Intelligent application of the 1-D method can commonly minimize
the impact of these simplifications. A fully 3-D approach employs a faulted geologic model with nonuniform stratigraphy that requires more knowledge and
requires considerably longer to build or modify for sensitivity analysis. We favor the 1-D approach for most
exploration problems where detailed facies variability
is commonly poorly known and deadlines are short;
the benefit of speed generally outweighs the limitations of the 1-D model. The 3-D approach is commonly preferable for production problems where greater
precision is required and more information and time
are generally available. In this paper, we will focus on
the 1-D approach.
Assumptions for One-Dimensional Analysis
Two assumptions were made to employ 1-D models.
The first is that sands and shales are laterally uniform
and continuous, which allows us to greatly simplify the
input of both stratigraphic and structural data. Our
specific requirement is that each sand represented in a
model is sufficiently continuous to reach important
leak points and structural spills in the trap. Clearly, this
assumption may be incorrect in traps with narrow
channel sands. In these cases, our models may have
fewer, more continuous sands than the prospect we are
modeling. The effect that this assumption has on our
results will be addressed later in the discussion section.
The second assumption is that structure remains uniform
vertically over each interval analyzed, and consequently,
that faults are vertical over that interval. Vertical structural variation is accommodated by subdividing the trap
vertically. For example, an upper structure map will
be applied to an upper stratigraphic interval and a
lower map to a lower interval that has different structural relationships. This is done for as many intervals as

the structural variation requires. Results are then combined for a full prospect summary.
Analysis Procedure
Step 1: Stratigraphic Model
Stochastic multifault analysis represents stratigraphy as
a stack of leak and seal beds (Figure 2). If a suitable
analog well is available, then leak and seal beds are distinguished on the basis of log analysis of a clay fraction
curve such as a V-shale curve. Leak beds have a clay
fraction below a specified cutoff value of 0.40. They
are beds that, based on the cutoff, are sufficiently rich
in sand that they leak when juxtaposed across faults.
We use the term leak instead of sand to emphasize the fact that this cutoff may include sands that
have poorer quality than reservoir sands. Seals have a
clay fraction above the same cutoff and typically
represent silty shales to high-quality clays that will not
allow cross-fault leakage when juxtaposed. The software blocks the log by computing the tops and bases of
leak and seal beds based on the calibrated cutoff value.
The cutoff value was determined by calibration to
approximately 30 fields where the hydrocarbon accumulations were known well. During the calibration, potential cutoff values between 0.30 and 0.50 were used
to predict hydrocarbon accumulations in each field.
We found that predictions were generally accurate for
cutoff values between 0.35 and 0.45, but that cutoff
values outside of this range led to a significant degradation in prediction accuracy. Based on this result, we
use a standardized cutoff of 0.40, but we routinely vary
the cutoff to test sensitivity to this value. In basins with
a high percentage of sediments with V shale values very
close to 0.40, predictions can vary significantly with a
small change in the cutoff. This introduces a significant
additional uncertainty that must be addressed.
Stochastic multifault analysis allows either a deterministic or stochastic analysis, and the process used to
create stratigraphic models differs depending on which
analysis is conducted. A deterministic analysis is identical to a single trial in a stochastic analysis; both use a
single model of stacked seal and leak beds to represent
the stratigraphic stacking. If a deterministic analysis is
done, then commonly, an analog well is selected, and it
is blocked into a sequence of leak and seal beds to
provide the stratigraphic model.
If a stochastic analysis is conducted, then the stratigraphy is divided into multiple, broad stratigraphic
packages from which the program can create a unique
stacking of leak and seal beds for each trial. If a well is
James et al.


Figure 2. Chart showing

the procedure followed by
stochastic and deterministic multifault analysis.

available, the interpreter examines the stratigraphic

stacking in the well and subdivides the stratigraphy into
packages (typically tens to hundreds of meters thick),
each with relatively uniform leak percent and bed
thickness. In Figure 2, the stratigraphy has a reservoir
section bounded by two seals. Each of these three intervals is treated as a separate package. The well log is
blocked to determine the percentage leak, percentage
seal, average leak thickness, and average seal thickness
for each package. The complete stratigraphic model is a
stack of these packages, each of which is defined by
these basic parameters. In rank exploration settings,
with no wells nearby, the interpretation team works

Fault-Seal Analysis Using a Stochastic Multifault Approach

together to generate a model stratigraphy, which may

be based on seismic facies, seismic inversion, regional
interpretation, or other methods. Stratigraphic packages are defined, along with the anticipated percent leak
and seal and average bed thickness of each package, but
these packages are defined based on the teams interpretation of alternative input data.
Step 1A
To create a trial stratigraphy from this stochastic model, mathematical distributions of leak and seal thickness are computed from the average leak thickness
and leak percentage provided as input. A Monte Carlo

process is then used to randomly select from these distributions to create a model with average leak thickness
and leak percentage properties that are similar to the
original input package, but with a different stacking
pattern of leaks and seals. This is done for each package,
and then the results for the packages are stacked to
create a complete trial stratigraphy.
Step 2: Structural Model
The structural model is very simple in the 1-D approach.
The trap is subdivided into compartments that are typically the equivalent of fault blocks. For each compartment, elevations of the crest, structural spill, and a well
location are specified. The crest and spill are used to
define block closure, and the spill is also a possible control
for hydrocarbon contacts. The well location constrains
how hydrocarbon contacts are counted: only hydrocarbon columns that fill below the level of the well are
counted because only these would be encountered by
the well. With this capability, predictions can be made
at a specified well location, and different well locations
can be tested. Systematic shifting of the well location can
also reveal a key elevation where substantial leak point
controls are concentrated if a small downflank shift in
the well location yields dramatically different results.
The geologist also provides the name of each fault
and identifies which compartments are located on the
upthrown and downthrown sides. Fault-plane sections
are defined by offset depth pairs along the fault. This
information is sufficient to calculate elevations of leak
points throughout the trap and to define the reservoirs
and compartments that are juxtaposed at each leak
Step 3
The analysis proceeds by convolving the stratigraphic
model with the structural model. It creates fault-plane
sections, builds an array of all leak and structural spillpoints, and then determines hydrocarbon contact levels
for each leak bed in each fault block. In the case of a
deterministic analysis where only one input stratigraphy is used, the analysis is complete at this point, and a
summary of all hydrocarbon contact and column data
are provided for each sand and each fault block. The
analyst can then process these results using a variety
of tools, including the ability to query any predicted
contact to determine which leak point or spill controls
that contact, its elevation, the fault on which it occurs,
and which reservoirs are juxtaposed. This information is
invaluable in determining exactly where key leak points
or spill controls occur.

In a stochastic analysis, the results for the first trial

stratigraphic model are recorded, and then the process
is repeated for a specified number of trials (commonly
500). The software returns to the input stochastic stratigraphic model and randomly creates a new trial stratigraphic model, which has a different stacking than the
previous models. This new model is then convolved
with the structure model to generate and record results
for that trial. After the final trial, the software records
the statistical summary of results. For each stratigraphic
package in each fault block, the following information
is provided:
Chance of success (fraction of trials having one or
more columns at a specified well location)
 Average number of columns, average column height,
average pay thickness, and total pay thickness for the
success cases

For these latter parameters, both the average of all

runs and the full probability distribution from P99 to
P01 are provided.
A wide range of outcomes has been observed in
many of our analyses. To evaluate the causes of this
variability, we included the capability to examine the
results of any of the trials as a single, deterministic
model. For instance, the analyst may decide to look at
trials that are similar to the average result or look at the
trials with the most or least trapped hydrocarbons. By
comparing trials with different results, they can determine what geologic changes are responsible for the
variation in the prediction. This has commonly helped
us focus on certain stratigraphic or structural characteristics that have the greatest impact on the potential
of the prospect. We can then reevaluate our confidence
in these elements or reinterpret them if appropriate.

During the application of stochastic and deterministic
multifault analysis, we have recognized new concepts
that have improved our understanding of the effects
of fault juxtapositions on hydrocarbon accumulations.
These concepts will be illustrated by examples in the
following section.
Delta Throw vs. Seal Thickness
Delta throw is defined as the magnitude of throw
change along a specified fault segment. A schematic
James et al.


Figure 3. Schematic fault-plane section showing the relationship of the ratio delta throw/seal thickness to the likelihood of fault
juxtaposition leak points. Highside beds are yellow, lowside beds are light blue, except for reservoir A, which is highlighted in dark
blue on both sides of the fault.

fault-plane section illustrates the relationship of delta

throw to the probability of juxtaposition (Figure 3).
This fault offsets several evenly spaced reservoirs. The
throw relationship is emphasized by the dark blue
bed, which shows that the fault has a zero-throw tip
at the right end of the profile. Throw remains small
across the right-hand third of the profile, so delta throw
is small there. Delta throw is large where the amount
of throw increases dramatically across the middle third
of the profile. On the left-hand side, throw is very
large, but again, the delta throw is small. The profile
shows clearly that virtually all juxtapositions occur in
the area of high delta throw; the probability that a bed
will encounter a juxtaposition leak point is higher in
segments along the fault with high delta throw. It also
shows that there is no correlation between the magnitude of throw and juxtaposition likelihood in an interval with evenly spaced reservoirs.
The ratio of delta throw to seal thickness is the
fundamental control on juxtaposition probability. The
importance of this ratio can be understood by following the downthrown blue bed across the segment
with high delta throw. Juxtaposition must occur every
time the blue bed crosses another bed, and this occurs
every time the throw increases by approximately the
thickness of the seal bed. If the delta throw is five times
the seal thickness, then approximately five juxtaposi892

Fault-Seal Analysis Using a Stochastic Multifault Approach

tions will occur. If seals are thicker, then the same delta
throw will create fewer juxtapositions. As the ratio of
delta throw to seal thickness increases, the probability
of juxtaposition leak points increases. Note that delta
throw is used instead of the throw gradient because the
length of the fault segment is irrelevant. The number of
juxtapositions is the same in the large delta throw
segment whether it is 100 or 1000 m (330 or 3300 ft)
wide; what matters is how many bed intersections
there are, which is defined by the relative magnitudes
of delta throw and seal thickness. In addition, because
most stratigraphic intervals have variable seal thickness,
delta throw is typically compared to the average seal
This concept can be exploited as a quick-look tool
to identify areas in a prospect with high leak probability
or potential map errors. Fault segments with high delta
throw can be identified by simply annotating a map
with fault throws and identifying segments with large
changes in throw. If the average seal thickness can be
estimated, any fault segment where delta throw significantly exceeds seal thickness can then be highlighted;
these will be the areas with the highest probability for
juxtapositions. High delta throw may arise from a map
or interpretation error. For instance, high delta throw
can occur if an interpreter fails to recognize an intersecting fault. For this reason, and because delta throw

Figure 4. Schematic fault-plane section for a fault that dies out near the crest of an anticline. The map at the base shows the fault
on the south flank of the anticline (defined by one offset contour). The fault-plane section extends across the anticline and includes
the unfaulted north flank. Dashed lines indicate beds on the downthrown side of the fault, and solid lines indicate the upthrown side.
Assume that beds continue upward, allowing leakage out of the upper sands. (A) Case with a thinner intermediate seal, which causes
a leak point near the crest in the underlying sand (see arrow). (B) A slightly thicker seal causes this sand to fill to spill by eliminating
the shallow leak point.
is such an important control on juxtaposition, we routinely focus more careful interpretation on the segments
with high delta throw, and we attempt to rectify any
errors or interpretation uncertainty.
Importance of Small Faults
If the average seal thickness is small, then a small delta
throw can create significant probability of juxtaposition. In high net/gross settings, average seal thickness
is commonly less than 20 m (66 ft). In this case, faults
with as little as 20 m (66 ft) delta throw (or with as
little as 20 m [66 ft] of maximum throw if one or both
fault tips are in the trap) can introduce significant fault
leak potential (see the prospect A example below). Conversely, thick seals require much larger delta throw to
generate high juxtaposition probability, and small faults
are of little concern.

dicted size of hydrocarbon columns (see the Guntong

example later). An example is shown schematically in
Figure 4, where a slight thickening of an intermediate
seal eliminates a leak point near the structural crest of
a trap (case B). Because there are no other leak points,
the sand then fills to spill, creating a much larger accumulation that includes multiple sands. In these situations, stochastic analysis typically predicts a large range
of outcomes. In contrast, other traps (see the Ling Gu
example later) are very insensitive to stratigraphic or
structural uncertainty. This is commonly because delta
throw on the faults is either much larger or much smaller
than seal thickness. A small change in either variable
induces little response in predicted outcomes.


Highly Sensitive Traps

Ling Gu-1 Well Postdrill Evaluation

In some traps, a small change in stratigraphy or fault

throw yields an extremely large change in the pre-

Ling Gu is a simple, faulted anticline (Figure 5) with

two reservoir intervals, which are designated the A and
James et al.


Figure 5. Depth structure map of Ling Gu trap on the top of the A sands. Arrows show important juxtaposition leak point controls. The
solid red line labeled GWC is the gas-water contact as observed in the uppermost (mapped) sand. The dashed lines approximate the
average gas outline in deeper sands that were limited by shallow juxtaposition leak points. The map of the lower sands is very similar to
this map, except the closure amplitude is larger on the lower sands, and closure east of fault B has more steeply dipping flanks.

B sands. When Ling Gu was drilled, expectations were

high because most anticlines in the area trap large hydrocarbon columns in many stacked reservoirs. However, the Ling Gu-1 well found only 1 gas column in
6 sands in the A interval and 1 gas column in 13 sands
of the B interval. Multifault analysis was performed to
test whether the analysis would correctly replicate the
poor result and to understand why Ling Gu-1 had failed
to meet expectations.
There are four faults that could affect the accumulation, each with maximum throw between 40 and
60 m (130 and 200 ft). Throw on two of the faults (C
and D) dies near the anticlinal culmination, creating
large delta throw near the crest of the trap. Gas can
exit the trap either at a saddle on the east, where it migrates to the next structure in the trend, or by leaking
across the western fault and migrating west. The Ling
Gu-1 well is located approximately 70 m (230 ft) below the crest of the trap. Gas charge comes from sources
interbedded with the reservoirs and at deeper stratigraphic levels. Charge is clearly adequate in the area

Fault-Seal Analysis Using a Stochastic Multifault Approach

because similar nearby anticlines are filled with large

volumes of gas that migrated from the same source
areas. The map on the lower sands is very similar to the
map on the upper sands, but closure heights are sufficiently different that the upper sand map was used
for predictions in the upper sands, whereas the lower
sand map was applied to the lower sands.
The stratigraphic model, which was derived from
Ling Gu-1, comprises the A and B sands, which are
packages of coastal plain to deltaic, moderately continuous to channelized sands bounded by seal intervals
(Figure 6). The quality of the seals in this area is excellent, but sparse thief sands are interbedded with
thick shales, as shown by the statistics for the model
stochastic packages. The sand packages have relatively
high percentages of thin leak beds, so that the average
seal thickness in these intervals is quite small.
Stochastic multifault analysis was performed using
these structure and stratigraphic models as input. The
results correctly indicate that Ling Gu-1 should not
have encountered many gas columns (Figure 7). The

Figure 6. Stochastic stratigraphic model for Ling Gu-1. The V shale well trace for the Ling Gu-1 well is shown on the left. The yellow
bars in the middle panel denote the leak % in each stratigraphic package used in the stochastic model. Statistical data for the
packages are tabulated on the right.

Figure 7. Stochastic multifault

analysis results for columns in
the Ling Gu-1 well. The gray
vertical bar shows the observed
values in the Ling Gu-1 well,
which is the value that the
postdrill analysis is attempting
to replicate. The horizontal black
line shows the average stochastic multifault prediction, and
the vertical black line shows
the predicted P95-P05 range.
All realizations for the A sands
predicted one column, so there
is no vertical bar shown. All
column heights are measured
from the crest of the structure.
COS = chance of success, or the
percentage of trials that encountered hydrocarbons in the well.
James et al.


Figure 8. Fault-plane section on the D

fault showing one realization of the lower
B sands. Yellow lines are highside beds,
and orange are lowside. Juxtaposition leak
points occur where the beds cross. Red
indicates the accumulations of hydrocarbons predicted for that realization. Black
circles indicate juxtapositions that facilitate communication between sands in the
common hydrocarbon system. Red arrows
show leakage that limits accumulations
in deeper sands. The vertical arrow shows
a hypothetical downflank well in a position
similar to that of Ling Gu-1.

predicted number of columns and column heights replicated the outcome extremely well, although the chance
of success for the A sands is slightly pessimistic. This
result is especially encouraging, considering that the predicted (and observed) number of columns is so small
compared to the large number of potential hydrocarbonbearing sands, 6 in the A interval and 13 in the B interval.
Trials were examined, and the well location was
varied to determine the factors that cause this trap to
hold an uneconomic accumulation. The primary problem at Ling Gu is that there is a high probability of
juxtaposition on fault D because seals are thin in the
reservoir intervals (5 m [16 ft] in the A sand interval
and 16 m [52 ft] in the B sand interval) compared to
delta throw of 45 m (150 ft) on fault D. The effect of
these juxtapositions is magnified by the crestal location of fault D. To demonstrate the effect of these
juxtapositions on hydrocarbon contacts, we will focus
on the B sands, where the key relationships are best
demonstrated. Figure 8 is a fault-plane section on fault
D for one realization in the B sands. On first inspection, the accumulations of hydrocarbons look quite
promising because of a large common contact beneath
the top seal. However, the problem is that despite this

Fault-Seal Analysis Using a Stochastic Multifault Approach

common system, only two of the sands actually fill past

the tip of fault D. Consequently, the area of gas in
most sands is quite small (dashed red line in Figure 5).
Most trials were similar to this, although the number
of sands varies within a small range.
The juxtapositions on fault D are responsible for
this result. Juxtapositions shown by black circles in
Figure 8 allow communication between the upper
sands, which establishes the common system between
these. Without these juxtapositions, each sand could
have had a column as large as that in the uppermost
sand, resulting in much more total gas. Deeper juxtapositions (arrows in Figure 8) drain the lower reservoirs
and limit accumulations to extremely small sizes.
Because juxtapositons on fault D cause such small
accumulations, most sands are water wet on the downthrown side of fault C. This in turn creates the identical problem at fault C, where juxtapositions play the
same role, leading to significant hydrocarbon accumulation only in the uppermost sands in the fault block
tested by Ling Gu-1. As in the crestal fault block,
most sands in this block have only small accumulations (dashed red line in Figure 5) that were too small
to be observed in Ling-Gu-1. A well that is drilled far

downflank in either fault block (for example, arrow in

Figure 8) would encounter gas only at the top of the
interval, as was observed in Ling Gu-1.
The uppermost sands in each sand interval fill with
gas because they are juxtaposed against their respective
top seals, where the probability of being juxtaposed
against a thief sand is relatively small. The chances of
success in our model indicate that this seal is good in a
large majority of the trials, particularly for the B sands.
In trials where the uppermost sand is sealed, it can fill
to deeper leak points. At the A sand level, three leak
points at almost the same elevation (leaks 2, 3, and 4)
control the contact in different trials. These leak points
establish one column at the top of the interval that is
deep enough to be encountered by the well. At the B
sand level, slight changes in the trap geometry cause
leak 3 to dominate. In both cases, the range of leak
point elevations is extremely small, which accounts for
the very narrow range of predicted column heights.
Ling Gu is an example of a trap where stratigraphic
uncertainty introduces very little uncertainty in the
prediction of fault-sealed hydrocarbons because the
fault throw relationships are such that there is very little
sensitivity to this uncertainty. Specifically, delta throw
is so much larger than seal thickness on the crestal faults
that reasonable variation in stratigraphy yields little
change in juxtaposition risk. In summary, the analysis
replicated the observations at Ling Gu-1 well and provided an explanation for the limited volume of gas.
Prospect A
Prospect A is a small gas prospect located immediately
north of a significant gas discovery. The Res-E reservoir interval, which is the primary focus of this discussion, is uppermost of many objective intervals in a
very sand-prone, marginal marine to coastal-plain interval with both continuous and channelized sands.
Because of the small area of this trap, it can be commercial only if a large number of stacked sands fill to
structural spill.
On first inspection, there appears to be no faultseal issue at the Res-E level because the trap has 30 m
(100 ft) of fault-independent closure (Figure 9). However, the sand-prone nature of the sediments at prospect A introduces a significant potential risk (Table 1).
Prospect A has the unusual situation that the overburden was expected to contain as much sand as the objective interval. The overburden was not considered a
viable target more because of a likely lack of top seal
adequacy than because of the lack of sand expected in a

top seal. Both intervals have very thin bedding. As a

consequence, the anticipated average shale thickness
is only approximately 10 m (33 ft). Any fault with only
10 m (33 ft) of delta throw can create juxtapositions
that have the potential to drain sands and significantly
reduce the number of columns. Furthermore, with shales
this thin, channel incisions could connect sands vertically. The seismic data in this area do not have sufficient resolution to identify faults or channel incisions
of this size. Thus, the danger exists that unresolved
faults or channels could significantly reduce the number of stacked gas columns in prospect A and render
the trap uneconomic.
This risk was evaluated by conducting an analysis
with the unfaulted structure and an analysis that
included a small, hypothetical fault at the crest of the
structure with a maximum of 10 m (33 ft) of throw
(Figure 9). Alternatively, this modeled fault could be
envisioned to represent an area with numerous, vertically connected channel incisions. In the unfaulted model, it was assumed that each bed had access to charge,
which is reasonable given the large fault just west of the
trap and the fact that sources are interbedded with reservoir. The stratigraphic model (Table 1) was derived
using seismic inversion to extrapolate from wells in
the nearby gas discovery. The overburden was given
the same properties as the reservoir interval to reflect
the uncommonly sand-prone section above the reservoir. One concern was that the most likely model with
41% leak beds might underestimate the sand likely to
be present at prospect A, so a model was also run with
60% leak beds.
The results indicate that a subseismic fault or widespread channel incisions could significantly reduce the
number and size of potential accumulations at prospect A, particularly if the higher net/gross model proved
to be correct (Figure 10). In the unfaulted anticline
case, the number of columns was predicted to be between 20 and 28; every bed is filled to spill with the
number of beds, depending the number of reservoirs
in the interval. If the fault or stacked channel complex is present, there could be as few as one column
if the interval proved to have the higher net /gross
sand. Chance of success (the fraction of trials with gas
columns) and column height did not vary significantly
between scenarios.
When the well was drilled, no gas columns were
found in the Res-E interval and the interval had a leak
percent near 50%. One possible explanation for even
fewer columns than predicted in the faulted scenarios
is that a fault is present that has more than 10 m (33 ft)
James et al.


Figure 9. Depth structure map

on the Res-E horizon at prospect A. The contour interval is
10 m (33 ft). The hypothetical
crestal fault used in the sensitivity model is shown.

of offset but still is too small to be resolved by the

relatively poor seismic data. Alternatively, unresolved
channel incisions may have had a similar effect or may
have combined with a small fault to drain the trap. By
focusing attention on the potential problem introduced
by an undetected fault, the analyst correctly highlighted the irreducible risk in this interval.

Guntong, Malay Basin

Guntong is a producing oil and gas field on a large
faulted anticline in the Malay Basin (Figure 11). Reservoirs are relatively channelized coastal-plain sands.
On a plot of column height against reservoir, oil columns are distributed in a distinctive sawtooth pattern

Table 1. Summary of Stratigraphic Input Used for Prospect A


Interval Thickness (m)

Sand (%)

Average Sand Thickness (m)

Average Seal Thickness (m)





Fault-Seal Analysis Using a Stochastic Multifault Approach

Figure 10. Stochastic multifault analysis predictions of

the number of columns in the
Res-E interval at prospect A.

(Figure 12). The pattern is characterized by a large

column in the top sand followed by a steady decline
in column height in the upper group I, a sharp increase in column height in the lower group I, again
followed by a decline, and another sharp increase in
the J group. The largest columns occur immediately
below significant regional seals that are thicker than
the other intrareservoir seals. The objective of this

analysis was to explain the origin of this column height

pattern using deterministic multifault analysis. The analysis also highlights the possible effect of trap sensitivity on our results.
In a deterministic analysis, a single stratigraphic
model is provided. The model was generated by blocking the Guntong-4 well, which is located closest to
an important fault system (Figure 13). Because fault

Figure 11. Depth structure map on the I-40 (upper group I) at Guntong field. The contour interval is 20 m (66 ft). Arrows denote
segments of the faults where key leak points are located.
James et al.


Figure 12. Observed column

height distribution in the group I
and group J sands at Guntong.
The vertical bar shows the height
of column in each sand.

Figure 13. Deterministic and stochastic stratigraphic models for Guntong, based on the Guntong-4 well. The log has been blocked
into leak (yellow) and seal (red) intervals to define a deterministic model of the stratigraphy. The arrow points to the critical thin thief
sand in the I-68 seal. The right-hand panel shows the stochastic packages that were defined. These packages are based in part on an
understanding of the regional stratigraphic packages.

Fault-Seal Analysis Using a Stochastic Multifault Approach

Figure 14. Column height distributions predicted by deterministic multifault analysis. (A) The initial prediction with the thief sand
present in the I-68 seal. (B) Prediction without the thief sand.

throws vary vertically, a separate structure model was

used for each group of declining columns. The structure model was based on a map from a reservoir in
each column group (the map for the upper interval is
provided in Figure 11). The results from the three
models were then combined to derive the predicted
contact pattern.
The initial analysis reproduced the upper I and J
columns successfully, but predicted only small columns in the lower I (Figure 14A). Investigation of the
small column in the I-68A sand revealed that this sand
was leaking to a small thief sand in the overlying I-68
seal at leak point near the arrow labeled A in Figure 11
(the thief is highlighted by an arrow in Figure 13).
The thief, in turn, leaked into the upper I at a leak point
on the same fault segment. This prevented fill past
this leak point and limited the I-68A column to 70 m
(230 ft). The deeper sands in the lower I interval were
also leaking at juxtapositions on this segment of the
fault. Investigation of other wells revealed that this
thief sand was present only in the Guntong-4 well.
Therefore, we removed the sand from the deterministic
model to simulate either the absence of the sand at the
fault leak point or seal of the leak point by fault gouge.

With the thief sand removed, large columns form beneath the much thicker I-68 seal (Figure 14B). The
prediction now simulates the observed pattern well.
An analysis of controls on these columns shows
that where intrareservoir seals are thin, leakage occurs
near arrow A. The thickness of the regional seals exceeds the delta throw on this fault segment, so that the
sand beneath each of these seals does not leak at this
location. These sands continue to fill down, until they
encounter leak points on a second fault segment at a
significantly deeper level where delta throw exceeds
these thicker seals (arrow B in Figure 11). These leak
points control the larger oil columns. The interplay of
the delta throw/seal thickness ratio with this combination of leak points accounts for the very distinctive
pattern of oil columns.
The effect that this single thief sand in the I-68
seal had on our predicted column heights is an excellent example of a highly sensitive trap, depending
either on the efficacy of fault gouge seal or the pinchout of the sand. Recognition of this sensitivity led to a
concern about the influence that it would have on a
stochastic prediction. A stochastic model was made in
which the I-68 seal was represented by a package that
James et al.


Figure 15. Stochastic multifault analysis prediction compared to the deterministic predictions. The vertical bars show
the average column height of
all columns in the lower group I
interval. Deterministic predictions are shown by a horizontal
line because only one average
column height is predicted in a
deterministic analysis. The first
line is for the model with the
thief sand present in the I-68
seal; the second line is for the
model in which the thief sand
was removed. For the stochastic
prediction, the horizontal line
shows the predicted average
column height, and the vertical
bar shows the P95 P05 range
for 500 trials.

included the thief sand. In a stochastic analysis, this

sand will be absent in some trials and, when present,
could occur anywhere in the seal package. The results
for the lower I (the interval below the I-68 seal) are
displayed in Figure 15. The average column height
observed in the lower I is 207 m (680 ft). The deterministic prediction using the Guntong-4 well is 55 m
(180 ft). In this case, the deterministic model predicts
the hydrocarbon accumulation very poorly because
the thief sand is present in the top seal. The prediction improves considerably to 170 m (560 ft) if the
thief sand is removed from Guntong-4, but the analyst
may not anticipate this issue in a predrill situation and
thus may rely on the 55-m (180-ft) prediction. The
average column height in the stochastic prediction is
160 m (525 ft), which underestimates the observed
average somewhat, but the predicted range of outcomes captures the observed column height. The more
significant result is the very large range in possible
outcomes, from 65 to 260 m (210 to 850 ft). An examination of trials indicates that this large uncertainty
arises both from the effect of the thief sand in the I-68
seal and, to a lesser degree, from the stacking of sands
in the lower I interval. Sensitivity to a stratigraphic or
structural input creates a wide range of outcomes in a
stochastic prediction, and this effectively communicates the large uncertainty introduced by the sensitiv902

Fault-Seal Analysis Using a Stochastic Multifault Approach

ity. The predicted uncertainty range (P95 to P05) does

not include the deterministic outcome because the
deterministic thief sand is located in a very unlikely,
yet very critical place in the seal interval.


After gaining experience with stochastic multifault
analysis, we reconsidered the potential importance of
the key simplifying assumptions we made to facilitate
the stochastic treatment of uncertainty. One assumption of the 1-D approach is that beds are laterally uniform across the trap. Reservoirs commonly are more
discontinuous laterally than our simple 1-D approach
assumes, particularly in fluvial or deep-water channel
systems. A possible effect of assuming lateral sand continuity is that our models will be more leak prone
than the actual prospect because continuous sands
are more likely than a narrow sand to intersect a fault.
To some unknown degree, the effect of greater continuity is counterbalanced by the fact that our models
will have fewer sand bodies than a model with discontinuous sands and an equivalent net/gross. Because

of these competing factors, the effect of the uniform

bed assumption is difficult to quantify. In our experience, tested predictions and postdrill calibrations match
observations relatively well, even in traps with channelized coastal-plain sands where the majority of the
calibration was conducted. This suggests that the effect
may be small enough to neglect for most exploration
We have also been concerned that stochastic multifault analysis does not address seal by fault-zone materials. In general, however, the predicted range of
outcomes predicted by stochastic multifault analysis
has generally captured the ultimate outcome. We have
not consistently predicted much smaller hydrocarbon
accumulations than are observed, as we might expect
if we were not accounting for significant seal by faultzone materials. We have identified two possible reasons
why this juxtaposition-based analysis that neglects
seal by fault-zone materials could effectively predict
hydrocarbon column heights. First, it is likely that we
are incidentally accounting for the effect of seal by
fault-zone materials to some unknown degree in our
calibration of the V shale cutoff value. A concern about
this is that one would not expect general success if a
method does not account directly and accurately for the
primary control on leak or seal. However, because both
juxtaposition risk and leak by fault-zone materials tend
to be covariant to some degree (both increase with increasing sand in an interval), it is possible that our
analysis could be successful even where gouge seal is
A second explanation is that in many cases, seal by
fault-zone materials may be a secondary factor compared to cross-leak at juxtapositions. In pursuing this
hypothesis, we have made two observations that we
consider significant. First, uncertainty greatly affects the
analysis of seal by fault-zone materials. When we reexamined the calibration data set for the ExxonMobil
equivalent of shale gouge ratio (SGR), we found that
stratigraphic and structural uncertainty affected gouge
analysis in two ways. First, there is uncertainty in the
calculated SGR value. Second, there is commonly great
uncertainty about whether two sands with different
contacts or pressures are actually juxtaposed. We found
that because of uncertainty, it was much more difficult
to prove individual examples of seal by fault gouge
in our data set than we previously believed. There
clearly are examples of seal by fault-zone materials,
but because of uncertainty, we have considerably fewer
proven examples in our data set than we had previously. Recognizing this uncertainty has made us less

confident about our conclusions regarding the importance of seal by fault-zone materials. Our second
observation is based on outcrop studies where we
commonly have observed that fault-zone materials
have discontinuities and would not be continuous
enough to hold a hydrocarbon column over geologic
time. Even a small number of discontinuities would
allow the fault to leak given enough time (Doughty,
2003) and could lessen the role that seal by fault
gouge plays. If this is true, then analysis of fault-zone
materials should focus on the probability that gouge
discontinuities are present over each juxtaposition,
and on the uncertainty associated with predicting this
probability, building on an analysis of juxtaposition
At this point, we continue to assess the relative
importance of juxtaposition risk and seal by fault-zone
materials, but evaluation of this issue has raised significant issues that deserve consideration. In particular, we believe that a systematic treatment of uncertainty in the analysis of seal by fault-zone materials,
particularly one that addresses discontinuities in fault
gouge, is beneficial. We continue to explore these issues
and encourage further evaluation by others.

We have developed a stochastic multifault method for
analysis of the impact of stratigraphic uncertainty on
cross-fault leak at sand-sand juxtapositions. This method simulates the complex system of structural spills
and juxtaposition leak points that control hydrocarbon contact levels and quantitatively predicts the impact of uncertainties in stratigraphic and structural
The ability to simulate the extremely complex
system of structural spills and juxtaposition leak points
has helped us understand the controls on hydrocarbon
contact levels in multifault traps with stacked reservoir systems. For example, leakage at juxtapositions
on the crestal fault at Ling Gu dictated the behavior
of a second fault lower on the structure, which controlled the contacts in the drilled fault block. A shift
from leak points on one fault to much deeper leak
points on another fault created the large change in hydrocarbon column height at Guntong. Furthermore,
we have found many cases where small faults have
exerted great influence on the size of hydrocarbon columns. Prior to our ability to simultaneously evaluate
James et al.


leak points on all faults and calculate resulting hydrocarbon columns, we may have neglected these faults to
make the visual interpretation of deterministic faultplane sections tractable.
Understanding the key controls on hydrocarbon
contact levels commonly focuses our stratigraphic and
structural interpretations. For instance, critical leak
points commonly are concentrated on a particular fault
segment, such as the crestal faults at Ling Gu. Because
this typically was not known at the time of initial interpretation, the interpreter commonly has not taken
any additional care interpreting this crucial area. A reexamination can lead to either a better understanding
of this critical control or a refinement of the interpretation in that area. Similarly, the analysis may identify some stratigraphic characteristic that is particularly
important, such as the small thief sand in the Guntong-4
well. A reconsideration of the stratigraphic model may
lead to additional effort that could refine the model or
provide greater confidence in the model. This improved focus also has facilitated more effective postdrill analyses.
Our applications of stochastic multifault analysis
have demonstrated that uncertainty commonly has a
significant impact on fault-seal predictions. For example, the Guntong example shows the wide range of
possible hydrocarbon column heights that depend on
whether a single thief sand is present or sealed by
fault-zone materials. The possibility of a small fault at
prospect A introduced large, irresolvable uncertainty.
It is therefore critical to recognize, analyze, and communicate this uncertainty in a fault-seal analysis. It is
beneficial to consider the effect of fault geometries on
the probability of leak in an interval or the relationship
between shale thickness and the probability of juxtapositions being present. Stochastic multifault analysis
offers one of many possible approaches to addressing
uncertainty. The important conclusion is that uncer-


Fault-Seal Analysis Using a Stochastic Multifault Approach

tainty is sufficiently important that it should be systematically addressed in an analysis of leak at fault
juxtapositions and in all aspects of fault-seal analysis.

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