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Abstract

The Brooks Range is a north-directed fold and thrust belt that forms the southern boundary of the North Slope petroleum province in northern Alaska. Field-based studies have long recognized that large-magnitude, thin-skinned folding and thrusting in the Brooks Range occurred during arc-continent collision in the Middle Jurassic to Early Cretaceous (Neocomian). Folds and thrusts, however, also deform middle and Upper Cretaceous strata of the Colville foreland basin and thus record a younger phase of deformation that apatite fission-track data have shown to occur primarily during the early Tertiary (~60 and ~45 Ma). A structural and kinematic model that reconciles these observations is critical to understanding the petroleum system of the Brooks Range fold and thrust belt.

New interpretations of outcrop and regional seismic reflection data indicate that from the modern mountain front northward to near the deformation front under the coastal plain, the basal thrust detachment for the orogen is located in the Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous Kingak Shale in the upper part of the regionally extensive, gently south-dipping, north-derived Mississippian to Early Cretaceous Ellesmerian sequence. The frontal part of the orogen lies in middle Cretaceous foreland basin strata and consists of a thin-skinned fold belt at the deformation front and a fully developed passive-roof duplex to the south. Near the mountain front, the orogen is composed of a stacked series of allochthons and thrust duplexes and associated Neocomian syntectonic deposits that are unconformably overlain by proximal foreland basin strata. The foreland basin strata and underlying deformed rocks are truncated by a younger generation of folds and thrusts. Vitrinite reflectance and stable isotope compositions of veins provide evidence of two fluid events in these rocks, including an earlier higher temperature (~250–300°C) event that was buffered by limestone and a younger, lower temperature (~150°C) event that had distinctly lower δ13C values as a result of oxidation of organic matter and/or methane. Zircon fission-track data from the host rocks of the veins show that the higher temperature fluid event occurred at 160–120 Ma, whereas the lower temperature event probably occurred at about 60–45 Ma.

It is proposed that the Brooks Range consists of two superposed contractional orogens that used many of the same mechanically incompetent stratigraphic units (e.g., Kayak Shale, Kingak Shale) as sites of thrust detachment. The older orogen formed in a north-directed arc-continent collisional zone that was active from 160 to 120 Ma. This deformation produced a thin-skinned deformational wedge that is characterized by fartraveled allochthons with relatively low structural relief, because it involved a thin (1–4-km [0.6–2.5-mi]-thick) stratigraphic section. Deeper parts of the deformational wedge are envisioned to have contained relatively high-temperature fluids that presumably migrated from or through limestone-rich source areas in the underlying autochthon or from deeper parts of the orogen. The younger orogen, which formed initially at about 60 Ma and reactivated at 45 Ma, produced a thrust belt and frontal triangle zone with low amounts of shortening and relatively high structural relief, because it involved a structural section 5–10 km (3–6 mi) thick. Fluids associated with this deformation were relatively of lower temperature and suggest that hydrocarbon migration occurred at this time.

We conclude that hydrocarbon generation from Triassic and Jurassic source strata and migration into stratigraphic traps occurred primarily by sedimentary burial principally at 100–90 Ma, between the times of the two major episodes of deformation. Subsequent sedimentary burial caused deep stratigraphic traps to become overmature, cracking oil to gas, and initiated some new hydrocarbon generation progressively higher in the section. Structural disruption of the traps in the early Tertiary released sequestered hydrocarbons. The hydrocarbons remigrated into newly formed structural traps, which formed at higher structural levels or were lost to the surface. Because of the generally high maturation of the Colville basin at the time of the deformation and remigration, most of the hydrocarbons available to fill traps were gas.

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