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The Devonian Woodford Shale and Cretaceous Mowry Shale consist of relatively deep (below storm wave base) intracratonic basin deposits commonly referred to as “shales” because of their dark gray to nearly black color, very fine-grained nature, pelagic fossils such as radiolarians, and common amorphous marine kerogen. These shales typically contain less than 30% detrital clay by weight and more than 50% quartz (locally up to 80%). The quartz is a mix of biogenic grains, mainly radiolarians, and authigenic silica along with some detrital quartz silt of extrabasinal origin. The authigenic silica is dominantly microcrystalline (< 1 micron) and forms a major component of the matrix in these formations, but the rocks also contain authigenic pyrite, commonly as framboids, minor carbonates including magnesite, and quartz overgrowths, but together these authigenic minerals form less than 10% of the rock.

Authigenic quartz in the Woodford and Mowry samples commonly takes the form of silica nanospheres, a type of microquartz less than a half micron in diameter. Textures of this microquartz are best observed directly with a high-resolution electron microscope. In many Woodford and Mowry samples, the silica nanospheres, which tend to be associated with organic matter, form more than 50% of the rock. The large volume of the authigenic quartz, together with “floating” detrital components and the close association with pyrite framboids, indicates that the silica nanospheres formed very early, perhaps in association with microbial activity on or in the seafloor sediments. These early silica nanospheres, which are only weakly luminescent, helped create a lithified sediment during or soon after deposition.

Where the silicification process ceased prior to complete silica cementation, the early silica nanospheres are associated with up to 15% interparticle microporosity. This gives the Woodford and Mowry good potential reservoir quality, at least locally. The authigenic silica nanospheres also enhance the mechanical properties and brittleness of these siliceous mudrocks to a degree much greater than the presence of the detrital quartz particles alone.

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