Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey in Alaska, 2006
Northern Alaska, showing distribution of the Lisburne Group and locations of study area. LCu, Lower Cretaceous unconformity. (from Figure 1)
The Lisburne Group, a mainly Carboniferous carbonate succession that is widely distributed across northern Alaska, contains notable amounts of oil and gas at Prudhoe Bay. Detailed studies of the Lisburne in the Skimo Creek area, central Brooks Range, delineate its lithofacies, age, conodont biofacies, depositional environments, and sequence stratigraphy and provide new data on its hydrocarbon source-rock and reservoir potential, as well as its thermal history, in this area.
We have studied the Lisburne Group in two thrust sheets of the Endicott Mountains allochthon, herein called the Skimo and Tiglukpuk thrust sheets. The southern, Skimo Creek section, which is >900 m thick, is composed largely of even-bedded to nodular lime mudstone and wackestone intercalated with intervals of thin- to thick-bedded bioclastic packstone and grainstone. Some parts of the section are partially to completely dolomitized and (or) replaced by chert. A distinctive, 30-m-thick zone of black, organic-rich shale, lime mudstone, and phosphorite is exposed 170 m below the top of the Lisburne. The uppermost 40 m of section is also distinctive and made up of dark shale, lime mudstone, spiculite, and glauconitic grainstone. The northern, Tiglukpuk Creek section, which is similar to the Skimo Creek section but only ~760 m thick, includes more packstone and grainstone and less organic-rich shale. Analyses of conodonts and foraminifers indicate that both sections range in age from late Early Mississippian (Osagean) through Early Pennsylvanian (early Morrowan) and document a hiatus of at least 15 m.y. at the contact between the Lisburne and the overlying Siksikpuk Formation. No evidence of subaerial exposure was observed along this contact, which may represent a submarine erosional surface.
Lithofacies and biofacies imply that the Lisburne Group in the study area was deposited mainly in midramp to outer-ramp settings. Deepest water strata are mud rich and formed below storm or fair-weather wave base on the outer ramp to outer midramp; shallowest facies are storm, sand-wave, and shoal deposits of the inner midramp to inner ramp. A relatively diverse, open-marine fauna occurs throughout much of the Lisburne in the study area, but some beds also contain clasts typical of more restricted, shallow-water environments that were likely transported seaward by storms and currents. Radiolarians are abundant in the shale and phosphorite unit at Skimo Creek and also occur in equivalent strata at Tiglukpuk Creek; high gamma-ray response and elevated total organic-carbon contents (max 5–8 weight percent) also characterize this unit at Skimo Creek. Lithologic, faunal, and geochemical data all suggest that these rocks formed mainly in an outer-ramp to basinal setting with low sedimentation rates, high productivity, and poorly oxygenated bottom water. Shale and mudstone at the top of the Lisburne Group accumulated in a similarly sediment starved, mainly outer ramp environment but lack comparable evidence for high nutrient and low oxygen levels during deposition.
Vertical shifts in rock types and faunas delineate numerous parasequences and six probable third-order sequences in the study area; the same sequences are also recognized in the Lisburne Group to the east. Transgressive-system tracts in these sequences generally fine upward, whereas highstand-system tracts coarsen upward. Sequences in the Tiglukpuk Creek section are mostly thinner, contain thinner and more numerous parasequences, and accumulated in somewhat shallower settings than those in the Skimo Creek section. These differences reflect the more seaward position and, thus, increased accommodation space of the Skimo Creek section relative to the Tiglukpuk Creek section during deposition.
Organic-rich calcareous shale in the shale and phosphorite unit has a cumulative thickness of at least 15 m and a lateral extent of >50 km; this lithology is the best potential hydrocarbon source rock in the Lisburne Group at Skimo Creek. The best potential reservoir facies of the Lisburne in the study area is dolomitized crinoidal grainstone that contains intercrystalline, moldic, and vuggy porosity and locally abundant dead oil. Maximum porosities of ~10 percent occur in intervals that are 1 to 2 m thick, of uncertain lateral extent, and best developed near the tops of sequences 1 through 4. Color-alteration indices of conodonts from both the Skimo Creek and Tiglukpuk Creek sections chiefly range from 1.5 to 2, indicating thermal maturities within the oil window.
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