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Exploration geoscientists working in the northern Gulf of Mexico and adjacent areas must
develop insights into relationships between hydrocarbon occurrences and regional/global
events such as growth-fault/allochthonous salt evolution and sea-level/climatic cycles.

In the Gulf of Mexico, numerous hydrocarbon plays have been spawned by Miocene-
Deep Water Play
age high frequency cycles of fluvial/incised valley fill, deltaic/neritic, and deep water Eastern Gulf Turbidite
slope/submarine fans deposits. Many of these have been complicated by structural Flex Trend Play
movements including salt diapirism. Over past decades, technological advancement Gulf of Mexico
has fueled development of exploration trends to greater depths and into deeper water. Miocene
These areas include the Deep Water play, the Eastern Gulf of Mexico Unconfined Reflection Seismic
Turbidite play, the Flex Trend, the Onshore South Louisiana play, and a "sub-weld" Submarine Fan
play in South Louisiana beneath the horizontal detachment surface.

TECHNOLOGY OVERVIEW ping found huge salt dome and faulted anticlinal fields
The Miocene is a pivotal interval in the history of the early in the century. The addition of reflection seismic
Cenozoic. Within its nearly 19 million years, profound data after World War II helped extend deeper plays
oceanographic and climatic changes occurred. These onshorepeaking in the 1940s for the upper Miocene, in
include the transition from globally more uniform envi- the 1950s for the middle Miocene, and in the 1970s for
ronments of the Paleogene, to the modern world where the lower Miocene deltaic trends.
extreme climatic and oceanographic contrasts are the
norm. Important Miocene climatic changes are reflected Deeper drilling technology pushed the search for upper
by the increasing importance of higher frequency cycles Miocene deltaic plays onto the continental shelf. A major
of deposition in the Gulf of Mexico. change in technology occurred in the early 1970s with
the advancement of true amplitude processing of reflec-
Miocene Exploration History in the Gulf of Mexico. tion seismic data. "Bright Spot" exploration strategy
Historically in the Gulf of Mexico, exploration plays launched a brief era of "pure" geophysical prospecting.
have been categorized into geographic areas such as Amplitude-related plays were chased all over the shelf
onshore, flex trend, eastern Gulf of Mexico, and deep and into the uppermost deep-water areas of the northern
water. Technical modifiers such as amplitude, non- Gulf continental slope in the 1980s. 3-D seismic data
amplitude, and sub-salt have also been added. became commonplace on the shelf and upper-slope dur-
Geophysical, geologic, paleontologic and drilling tech- ing this time. By the 1990s discoveries on the shelf had
nologies have all played an important role at one time or slowed, while deep-water discoveries began to take off.
Seismic advancements during the past two decades
In the onshore Miocene fluvial and deltaic trends of include dip moveout, advanced post-stack time migra-
south Louisiana, gravity and sub-surface geological map- tion algorithms, turning wave migration, 3-D amplitude
versus offset processing, ray-trace analysis, post-stack
depth migration, pre-stack time migration, and pre-stack
Based on a workshop sponsored by PTTC's Eastern Gulf
depth migration. Also, industry has been willing to
Region, November 10, 1999 in Jackson, Mississippi.
acquire 3-D data sets for production as well as explo-
SPEAKERS: ration tools.
Miocene--A Global Perspective; Lower & Middle Miocene
Sequences and Depocenters in the Gulf of Mexico Introduction of "seismic stratigraphy" in 1977 drove the
Richard Fillon, Earth Studies Associates development of basin-fill and new submarine fan facies
models. Major differences have been recognized between
Upper Miocene Sequences and Depocenters; Reservoir and submarine fan sections in third- and fourth-order
Exploration Strategies in the Miocene of the Gulf of Mexico sequences deposited on a second-order relative fall of sea
Paul Lawless, CNG Producing Co. 203 level, as opposed to submarine fan sections deposited on
a second-order rise. Advances in biostratigraphy in the Miocene, and possibly middle Miocene submarine fan
past two decades have greatly improved zonations and section below deformed allochthonous salt. So far the
have allowed sequence stratigraphy to develop as an play has been for amplitude-associated pay only and has
effective exploration tool. Modern computer technology made several major discoveries, but few economic fields.
has breathed new life into old exploratory field tech- Salt sheets in the flex trend are as difficult to image
niques such as gravity. Computer generated second-verti- beneath as the ones in deep water, thus this play has
cal derivative (SVD) gravity maps can now contrast low tended to be uneconomic. Targeting more homogeneous
density salt with higher density sediment-filled mini- ponded sheet sands at the base of the sequence may
basins, providing a high-resolution virtual image of shelf improve the play's economics.
and slope structures.
Onshore South Louisiana. Although the Miocene of
Deeper Water Miocene. This play spans Mississippi south Louisiana has been heavily explored since the
Canyon, Ewing Bank, Atwater Valley Lund, and eastern 1920s, it has provided more economic discoveries in the
portions of Green Canyon and Walker ridge where upper, past ten years than the flex trend sub-salt play. Recent
middle and sometimes lower Miocene sections are eco- Miocene discoveries are deep, geopressured and contain
nomically drillable. Although oil is the main objective, reservoirs that are not amplitude associated. The largest
large gas accumulations have also been located. This discoveries in the play have been on faulted anticlines,
play has evolved from drilling to structural highs in the found with the aid of detailed regional maps utilizing
early 1980s to seeking amplitude-associated pay trapped well logs, biostratigraphy, and 2-D seismic data. 3-D data
in ponded turbidite facies in supra-salt and intra-salt were often acquired only after a discovery, for more effi-
mini-basins of the uppermost continental shelf in the late cient development.
1980s. Larger prospects in this area drilled in the 1990s
have targeted salt overhangs and sub-salt structures. The Because it is so deeply buried, the exploration target for
recent billion barrel "Crazy Horse" discovery in southern the Lentic Jeff submarine fan section is only 18 miles
Mississippi Canyon proved that large amounts of non- wide. In southeast Louisiana, a number of lower and
amplitude pay exist. middle Miocene turbidite sands, deposited on a relative
second-order sea level rise have been located downdip of
Basinward of the ponded turbidite mini-basin play, salt- their respective paleo-shelf edges. Three additional mid-
cored thrust folds have middle and lower Miocene dle Miocene third-order sequences contain very sand-
abyssal plain section draped across them. Two discover- rich submarine fan sections. These sequences can be
ies occur in the Mississippi fan thrust and fold belt play, explored over a 25-50 mile wide swath.
Neptune and Mad Dog.
Several large exploration companies have recently shut
Eastern Gulf of Mexico Unconfined Turbidite. This play down their onshore exploration programs. Additional
targets upper and middle Miocene unconfined subma- 3-D seismic (or at least rigorous reworking of the large
rine fan section deposited basinward of the salt mini- amount of 2-D data in that area) may help to identify
basin province in Main Pass and Vioska Knoll. more economic stratigraphic traps. Many additional sub-
Reservoirs in this trend lie within the channel-levee and marine fan prospects remain to be tested in this play. A
overbank mid-fan depositonal system, and range in size "sub-weld" play exists in various parts of South
up to 500 MMBOE. Louisiana where section below the horizontal detach-
ment surface can be drilled.
Flex Trend. This trend is a geographic area encompass-
ing the outermost shelf and uppermost slope where salt CONNECTIONS:
sheets are actively deforming. Discoveries from the 1970s Richard H. Fillon
and 1980s include "Bullwinkle" and "Popeye". In recent Earth Studies Associates
years the more exciting play has been for ponded upper 3730 Rue Nichole, New Orleans, LA 70131
phone 504-394-0797, fax: 425-955-4725
For information on PTTCs Eastern Gulf Region and its activities contact: e-mail

Paul N. Lawless
Ernest A. Mancini, Professor of Geology CNG Producing Co.
University of Alabama 1450 Poydras St., New Orleans, LA 70110
Box 870338, 202 Bevill Bldg., Tuscaloosa, AL 35487 phone 504-593-7000, fax: 504-593-7342
ph 205-348-4319, fax 205-348-0818, e-mail e-mail

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