The Late Devonian and Early Mississippian Bakken and Exshaw formations are a continuum of regionally correlated, organic-rich (up to 35% total organic carbon), black shale source rocks covering much of the Western Canada sedimentary basin. The Bakken Formation is composed of (1) a black mudstone lower member, (2) a gray mudstone/sandstone middle member, and (3) a black mudstone upper member. The Exshaw Formation, beneath the Alberta Plains and in exposures in the Foothills and Front Ranges of the Rocky Mountains, is composed of (1) a lower black shale member and (2) an upper siltstone member. The basal black shale unit of the Lower Mississippian Banff Formation, overlying the Exshaw Formation, is a second organic-rich interval. These black shales are regionally significant hydrocarbon source rocks and local reservoirs. The middle Bakken member is a locally important reservoir rock with substantial economic potential.
The Bakken and Exshaw formations and the basal Banff black shale are divisible into three systems tracts: (1) a transgressive systems tract, (2) a lowstand systems tract, and (3) a second transgressive systems tract. Lodgepole and Banff formation carbonates, overlying the Bakken and Exshaw formations, are part of a highstand systems tract. A sequence boundary occurs between the lower and middle Bakken members. The conformable equivalent of this sequence boundary is within the Exshaw black shale member. Variations in the internal composition of these systems tracts imply that two depocenters, (1) the Williston basin and (2) the Prophet trough and the western margin of the North American craton, were affected differently by relative sea level rise and fall during Bakken and Exshaw deposition because of differences in water depth and sediment accommodation. Spatial and temporal changes in black shale and gray mudstone/sandstone, as highlighted by this sequence stratigraphic interpretation, may have significant impacts on source rock potential and hydrocarbon reservoir size, location, and quality.