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Abstract

Salt tectonics in the northern Gulf of Mexico involves both vertical diapirism and lateral silling or flow of salt into wings and tablets (sheets). Combinations of these two modes of salt deformation, concurrent with sediment loading and salt evacuation, have produced complex structures in the coastal and offshore region of southeastern Louisiana, a prolific oil and gas province. Many large growth faults and salt domes in the study area root into intra-Tertiary salt welds that were formerly occupied by allochthonous salt tablets. Two end-member structural systems involving evacuation of former tabular salt are recognized: roho systems and stepped counter-regional systems. Both end-member systems share a similar multi-staged evolution, including (1) initial formation of a south-leaning salt dome or wall sourced from the Jurassic salt level; (2) progressive development into a semi-tabular allochthonous salt body; and (3) subsequent loading, evacuation, and displacement of the tabular salt into secondary domes. In both systems, it is not uncommon to find salt displaced as much as 16-24 km south of its autochthonous source, connected by a horizontal salt weld to an updip, deflated counter-regional feeder.

Although both end-member structural systems may originate before loading of allochthonous salt having grossly similar geometry, their final structural configurations after loading and salt withdrawal are distinctly different. Roho systems are characterized by large-displacement, listric, south-dipping growth faults that sole into intra-Tertiary salt welds marked by high-amplitude reflections continuous with residual salt masses. Salt from the former salt tablets has been loaded and squeezed laterally and downdip. Stepped counter-regional systems, in contrast, comprise large salt domes and adjacent large-displacement, north-dipping growth faults that sole into intra-Tertiary salt welds before stepping down again farther north. Within the large salt-withdrawal basins north of the counter-regional faults are south-dipping strata that terminate onto subhorizontal salt welds.

Recognition of these more complex, deep-seated salt geometries should be factored into an analysis of hydrocarbon charge, migration, and trapping in light of the strong correlation between oil and salt-structural systems in the Gulf Coast.

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