A detailed analysis of Oligocene Frio Formation intraslope, growth-faulted subbasins in the Corpus Christi, Texas, area indicates that deposition during relative lowstands of sea level was the main initiator, or trigger, of growth faulting. Lowstand depocenters on the low-gradient, upper continental slope comprising basin-floor fan facies, slope-fan systems, and prograding lowstand delta systems exerted sufficient gravity stress to trigger major sections of outer shelf and upper slope strata to fail and move basinward. The faults sole out deep in the basin, and rotation of hanging-wall blocks mobilized deep-water muds and forced the mud basinward and upward to form mud (shale) ridges that constitute the basinward flank of intraslope subbasins overlying footwall fault blocks.
Sedimentation associated with third-order relative falls of sea level produced load stress that triggered a major regional syndepositional growth-fault system. Subbasins on the downthrown side of each arcuate fault segment that constitute a regional fault system are filled during the lowstands of sea level. Consequently, genetically similar but noncontemporaneous lowstand depositional systems filled each successive growth-faulted subbasin trend. The subbasin stratigraphy becomes younger basinward because the subbasin development and fill process extended the Frio shelf edge stepwise into the Oligocene Gulf of Mexico Basin, coinciding with relative third-order sea level cycles.
The subbasins have been prolific petroleum targets for decades and are now the focus of prospecting for deep gas. Lowstand sandstones are principal reservoirs, and synsedimentary tectonics produced anticlinal and fault traps and associated stratigraphic pinch-out traps on the flanks of the structures. Understanding the origin of the faulted subbasins and their chronostratigraphic relationships and depositional processes provides a perspective that can improve deep gas exploration.