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The Reelfoot rift is one segment of a late Proterozoic(?) to early Paleozoic intracontinental rift complex in the south-central United States. The rift complex is situated beneath Mesozoic to Cenozoic strata of the Mississippi embayment of southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, and western Tennessee and Kentucky. The rift portion of the stratigraphic section consists primarily of synrift Cambrian and Ordovician strata, capped by a postrift sag succession of Late Ordovician to Cenozoic age. Potential synrift source rocks have been identified in the Cambrian Elvins Shale. Thermal maturity of Paleozoic strata within the rift ranges from the oil window to the dry gas window. Petroleum generation in Elvins source rocks likely occurred during the middle to late Paleozoic. Upper Cretaceous sedimentary rocks unconformably overlie various Paleozoic units and define the likely upper boundary of the petroleum system.

No production has been established in the Reelfoot rift. However, at least nine of 22 exploratory wells have reported petroleum shows, mainly gas shows with some asphalt or solid hydrocarbon residue. Regional seismic profiling shows the presence of two large inversion structures (Blytheville arch and Pascola arch). The Blytheville arch is marked by a core of structurally thickened Elvins Shale, whereas the Pascola arch reflects the structural uplift of a portion of the entire rift basin. Structural uplift and faulting within the Reelfoot rift since the late Paleozoic appear to have disrupted older conventional hydrocarbon traps and likely spilled any potential conventional petroleum accumulations. The remaining potential resources within the Reelfoot rift are likely shale gas accumulations within the Elvins Shale; however, reservoir continuity and porosity as well as pervasive faulting appear to be significant future challenges for explorers and drillers.

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