The lower section of the lower Silurian Qusaiba Member, Qalibah Formation, is characterized by regionally developed organic-rich shales that have sourced many of the large Paleozoic petroleum systems of Saudi Arabia. In northern Saudi Arabia, these high–total organic carbon (TOC) horizons are being assessed for their unconventional shale-gas potential. The initial phase of exploration drilling, which resulted in a quadrupling of the number of penetrations in northern Saudi Arabia, had the dual purpose of (1) assessing the high-TOC horizons as an unconventional resource play and (2) acquiring the fundamental data required to understand the geologic development of the zones of interest within the lower Qusaiba.

The availability of numerous new cores from across northern Saudi Arabia enabled an extensive refinement of the existing biostratigraphy and enhanced integration between graptolite and palynomorph biozonation systems. In cores from the study area, four distinct sedimentary facies are recognized, (1) pyritic siltstone, (2) black mudstone, (3) black chert, and (4) gray shale, representing distinct paleoenvironmental conditions related to the stepped latest Ordovician and early Silurian Gondwanan deglaciation.

The failure of the Gondwanan ice sheet was not a simple, short-lived, consistent melting and associated flooding of a flat continental shelf. This study highlights the complex interplay of sea-floor topography, ocean currents, sediment supply, and variations in the rate of melting of the ice sheet. With the associated rising ambient temperatures there are (1) increasing clay concentrations associated with intensifying chemical weathering of the exposed land mass and (2) progressive lowering of the carbonate compensation depth as water temperatures rise, enabling the preservation of carbonate shell material.

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