The gray diagenetic facies of the Permian Lyons Sandstone, which is associated with all known petroleum accumulations in the formation, formed late in the history of the Denver basin as an alteration product of the formation’s red facies. The red facies that makes up most of the sandstone contains iron oxide coatings, quartz overgrowths and calcite cements. The gray facies, which occurs locally in the deep basin, is distinguished by pore-filling dolomite and anhydrite cements and by a lack of iron oxide and calcite. The dolomite and anhydrite cements overlie bitumen that was deposited by migrating oil, and hence formed after oil was first generated in the basin, late in the Cretaceous or early in the Tertiary. The isotopic composition of oxygen in the dolomite ranges to such light values that the cement must have formed deep in the basin in the presence of meteoric water.
The gray facies likely formed in a regime of groundwater flow resulting from Laramide uplift of the Front Range during the Tertiary. In our model, saline groundwater flowed eastward through the Pennsylvanian Fountain Formation and then upwelled along the basin axis, where it discharged into the Lyons Sandstone. The saline water mixed with more dilute groundwater in the Lyons, driving a reaction that dissolved calcite and, by a common-ion effect, precipitated dolomite and anhydrite. The facies’ gray color resulted from reduction of ferric oxide in the presence of migrating oil or the Fountain brine. Underlying source beds by this time had begun to generate petroleum, which migrated by buoyancy into the Lyons. The association of the gray facies with petroleum accumulations can be explained if the Fountain brines discharged across aquitards along the same fractures that transmitted oil. As petroleum accumulated in the Lyons, the newly formed cements prevented continued migration, as is observed in shallower strata, by sealing oil into the reservoirs from which it is produced today.