Abstract

Field structural data from the Big Brushy Canyon monocline developed in Cretaceous strata of west Texas are combined with nonlinear finite element modeling to help bridge the gap between geometric, kinematic, and mechanical analysis techniques for understanding the deformation history of reservoir-scale geologic structures. The massive Santa Elena Limestone is offset along a steep normal fault, and fault displacement is accommodated upward by the folding of the Buda Limestone and Boquillas Formation and the thinning in the intervening Del Rio Clay. Mesostructures within competent Buda Limestone beds are concentrated in the monocline limb instead of the hinge and include bed-perpendicular veins that accommodate bed-parallel extension and bedding-plane slip surfaces that offset the veins and accommodate flexural slip. Finite element models were constructed to reproduce the monocline geometry and deformation distribution as well as to assess the effect of material properties and boundary conditions on structural evolution. The initial model configuration replicated the assumed predeformational geometry, included frictional sliding surfaces to allow for bedding-parallel slip, and used a displacement boundary condition at the base of the Santa Elena footwall to simulate fault motion. Geometry and strain evolution were tracked so that (1) fold shape, (2) cumulative extension, and (3) layer-parallel shear strain could be compared to field observations. Iterative model runs successfully matched field data and revealed the importance of benchmarking the model results against monocline geometry, layer-parallel extensional strain, and bedding slip in the natural example. Our results illustrate the potential use of this modeling approach whereby calibration is performed using available data and is followed by strain measurement throughout the model domain to aid in prediction of subseismic faults and fractures. This geomechanical modeling approach provides a powerful tool for site-specific subsurface deformation prediction in hydrocarbon reservoirs that incorporates details of the local mechanical stratigraphy and structural setting.

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