As part of an assessment of undiscovered hydrocarbon resources in the northern Gulf of Mexico onshore Mesozoic section, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) evaluated the Lower Cretaceous Pearsall Formation of the Maverick Basin, south Texas, as a potential shale gas resource. Wireline logs were used to determine the stratigraphic distribution of the Pearsall Formation and to select available core and cuttings samples for analytical investigation. Samples used for this study spanned updip to downdip environments in the Maverick Basin, including several from the current shale gas-producing area of the Pearsall Formation.

The term “shale” does not adequately describe any of the Pearsall samples evaluated for this study, which included argillaceous lime wackestones from more proximal marine depositional environments in Maverick County and argillaceous lime mudstones from the distal Lower Cretaceous shelf edge in western Bee County. Most facies in the Pearsall Formation were deposited in oxygenated environments as evidenced by the presence of biota preserved as shell fragments and the near absence of sediment laminae, which is probably caused by bioturbation. Organic material is poorly preserved and primarily consists of type III kerogen (terrestrial) and type IV kerogen (inert solid bitumen), with a minor contribution from type II kerogen (marine) based on petrographic analysis and pyrolysis. Carbonate dominates the mineralogy followed by clays and quartz. The low abundance and broad size distribution of pyrite are consistent with the presence of oxic conditions during sediment deposition. The Pearsall Formation is in the dry gas window of hydrocarbon generation (mean random vitrinite reflectance values, Ro = 1.2–2.2%) and contains moderate levels of total organic carbon (average 0.86 wt. %), which primarily resides in the inert solid bitumen. Solid bitumen is interpreted to result from in-situ thermal cracking of liquid hydrocarbon generated from original type II kerogen that was prevented from expulsion and migration by low permeability. The temperature of maximum pyrolysis output (Tmax) is a poor predictor of thermal maturity because the pyrolysis (S2) peaks from Rock-Eval analysis are ill defined. Vitrinite reflectance values are consistent with the dry gas window and are the preferred thermal maturity parameter.

A Maverick Basin Pearsall shale gas assessment unit was defined using political and geologic boundaries to denote its spatial extent and was evaluated following established USGS hydrocarbon assessment methodology. The assessment estimated a mean undiscovered technically recoverable natural gas resource of 8.8 tcf of gas and 3.4 and 17.8 tcf of gas at the F95 and F5 fractile confidence levels, respectively. Significant engineering challenges will likely need to be met in determining the correct stimulation and completion combination for the successful future development of undiscovered natural gas resources in the Pearsall Formation.

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