The northern Gulf of Mexico federal offshore area easily qualifies as a super basin based upon estimated petroleum endowment of more than 100 BOE and cumulative production of 60 BOE. Like other super basins, it has multiple petroleum systems and stacked reservoirs. Examination of four key elements of these petroleum systems (reservoirs, source rocks, seals, and traps) yields important insights to the geologic processes that result in such an exceptional habitat for conventional hydrocarbons.

The bulk of hydrocarbon resources in federal offshore waters is in Cenozoic sandstone reservoirs such as the Paleogene Wilcox reservoir of deep-water subsalt areas. Overall, Cenozoic sandstone reservoirs in both suprasalt and subsalt fields yield the highest flow rates and cumulative production volumes. Notable is the recent addition of the deep-water Jurassic Norphlet sandstone play, the newest and second largest by ultimately technically recoverable resources. Overall, Gulf of Mexico reservoirs are diverse, formed in paleoenvironments ranging from aeolian to deep water.

Powering this super basin are three primary marine source rocks centered in the Oxfordian, Tithonian, and Cenomanian–Turonian Stages. These source rock intervals commonly act as top seals, but other Neogene and Mesozoic shales and even carbonate mudstones are also important trap-sealing elements, as proven by analytical work and downhole pressure measurements. The extensive salt distribution and relatively late Cenozoic burial delayed source rock maturation and migration until the culmination of trap formation in many areas.

High rates of Cenozoic deposition on a mobile salt substrate also generated a myriad of salt tectonic structures, ranging from simple diapiric closures and extensional fault traps to complex subsalt configurations such as salt-cored compressional anticlines, salt-cutoff traps, and bucket weld traps. Exploration success in the past 20 yr is a direct result of improved seismic imaging around and below salt, as well as advances in drilling, completing, and producing wells and fields.

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