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The Mississippian system in the midcontinent of the United States is a complex carbonate- and chert-dominated system with a large degree of reservoir variability and heterogeneity. An outcrop study was done in the state of Arkansas on the Middle Mississippian (Visean) Burlington-Keokuk Formation to analyze the depositional setting and high-resolution sequence stratigraphic architecture to better understand the reservoir distribution of similar units in the subsurface.

The outcrop location, in the northwestern portion of the state of Arkansas, was studied using an integrated sequence stratigraphic approach, combining high-resolution photography for tracing bed boundaries and lithologic contacts along with facies determination from outcrop and thin section analysis. A range of skeletal packstones to grainstones dominated by crinoidal fragments and an abundance of void-filling syntaxial calcite cements comprised the majority of the outcrop facies. Nodular to bedded siliceous limestone to carbonate-rich chert facies were observed containing up to approximately 50% microporosity. Based upon facies assemblages and the presence of meter-scale sand waves with faint cross bedding on outcrop, these units were likely deposited in a high-energy sand shoal or sand bar in a proximal position on a distally steepened ramp.

Within the outcrop, multiple shoaling upward packages were observed, consisting of siliceous limestones and cherts at the bases overlain by coarsening and thickening upward grainstone bodies. This stacking pattern was observed at two different scales. Larger-scale packages 15 to 35 feet (5–10 m) thick were mappable and continuous across the entire outcrop (1320 ft [400 m]), and are inferred to be controlled by eustatic sea-level change. A smaller-scale stacking pattern was observed on the meter (several feet) scale and were mappable for 165–500 ft (50–150 m) laterally. The lack of limited lateral correlation is inferred to be due to autocyclic controls within the active sand body. The observed shoaling upward patterns create a hierarchy of stacked reservoir and seal units with superimposed variability. These findings illustrate the potential for high-frequency sea-level change and autocyclic control on facies and reservoir distribution that may be seen in the subsurface. Two-dimensional geostatistical modeling further illustrates the need for this level of characterization, as variogram inputs are biased significantly by the segregation of high-frequency sequences and dominant eustatic or autocyclic controls on deposition.

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