World-class training for the modern energy industry

Contractional Structures: Outcrop Analogs for the Rockies, Permian, Mid-Continent, and Appalachian Basins (G010)

  • TypeType: Field
  • TypeDiscipline: Structural Geology
  • TypeDuration: 5 Days


W. Lansing Taylor: Independent Consultant


With the exception of the Gulf of Mexico, the major producing basins of the United States are situated in contractional tectonics settings. This course describes the geometry, evolution and tectono-stratigraphy of foreland basins, the adjacent fold and thrust belts, and of high-angle reverse faults that frequently cut contractional basins. Exceptional and well-exposed northern Rocky Mountain outcrops near Butte, Montana and Cody, Wyoming, illustrate (1) Sevier thin-skin and (2) Laramide thick-skin deformation styles. Lectures focus on interpretation from seismic images of faults, folds, fractures, unconformities and associated sedimentary packages. Concepts are applicable in both exploration and development settings.

Duration and Logistics

A 5-day field course comprising a mix of classroom lectures (20%), outcrop visits (70%) and travel (10%). The manual will be provided in digital format and you will be required to bring a laptop or tablet computer to the course. The course begins in Butte, Montana, and ends in Cody, Wyoming.

Level and Audience

Advanced. This course is intended for geologists and geophysicists engaged in the interpretation of faults, folds, natural fractures, unconformities and tectono-stratigraphic packages from seismic and well data. Engineers and managers will benefit from an awareness of the topics discussed. Participants are expected to have a basic understanding of geologic process and materials but do not require any specific background in structural geology.

Exertion Level

This class requires a MODERATE exertion level. The fieldwork will involve walking up and down slopes over rough ground. There will be walks of up to 3.2km (2 miles) on most days, the most strenuous being an ascent (and descent) of 100m (330 ft) over rocky ground. The altitude of the field areas ranges from 1200–1750m (4000–5800 ft), which may lead to unexpected shortness of breath for some. The weather should be cool to pleasant with a typical daily range of 2–24°C (35–75°F) in the fall. Transport will be by SUVs on paved and graded dirt roads.


You will learn to:

1. Recognize characteristic patterns that distinguish thin-skin and thick-skin styles of deformation.

2. Understand mechanisms of basin subsidence that occur during contraction.

3. Link the architecture and material of tectono-stratigraphic packages to controlling deformation events.

4. Interpret the patterns of faults, folds, natural fractures and unconformities with increased confidence.

Course Content

The course begins with two days on thin-skin fold and thrust belts of the Sevier Orogeny near Butte, Montana; topics are directly relevant to Rocky Mountain basins. The outcrops illustrate deformation in both carbonate and clastic rocks and serve as analogs to structural styles found in the Allegheny Thrust Belt bounding the Permian and Mid-Continent basins and the Acadian Thrust Belt bounding the Appalachian Basin.

On the third day, we move into the foreland and focus on characterization of natural fracture systems. While driving from Butte to Cody, Wyoming, we will make field stops that introduce the major predictive methods and approaches to modelling naturally fractured reservoirs, including curvature analysis and discrete fracture network models.

The final two days of the course are based out of Cody and will focus on the high-angle reverse faults and inverted systems in the Bighorn Basin. The outcrops serve as analogs to the Central Basin Platform in the Permian Basin, the Southern Oklahoma Aulacogen in the Mid-Continent and the smaller inversion features that are prevalent in most foreland basin settings.

Itinerary (Provisional)

Day 0

Travel to Butte, Montana.

Day 1

Lecture – Thin-skin structures

  • Fundamentals of fold and thrust belts
  • Traps in fold and thrust belts
  • Fundamentals of foreland basins
  • Traps in foreland basins
  • Introduction to the Sevier Orogeny and the Cretaceous Seaway

Half-day field excursion – Thin-skin structures I

  • Flexural slip, S and Z folds
  • Fixed vs rolling hinges
  • Fault-propagation/fault-bend folding

Day 2

Full-day field excursion – Thin-skin structures II

  • Accommodation in brittle material
  • Accommodation in ductile material
  • Detachment
  • Geometry of thrust faults

Day 3

Half-day field excursion – Natural fracture characterization and prediction.

(Conducted during a half-day drive from Butte, Montana, to Cody, Wyoming.)

  • Fold-related fracturing
  • Curvature analysis
  • The Cretaceous foreland
  • Stratigraphic control on natural fractures

Day 4

Lecture – Thick-skin structures

  • Fundamentals of basement-involved contraction
  • Traps in thick-skin systems
  • Role of structure in unconventionals / geomechanics
  • Introduction to the Rocky Mountains and the Bighorn Basin

Half-day field excursion – Thick-skin structures I

  • High-angle faulting and footwall shortcuts
  • Fault-propagation folding
  • Tectonic stratigraphy overview
  • Tectonic stratigraphy facies

Day 5

Full-day field excursion – Thick-skin structures II

  • Reservoir characterization, transect through a fault-propagation fold
  • Linkage structures in 3-D
  • Cody shale unconventional reservoir and geomechanics

Early evening departures to Denver.


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