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The Niagara-Lower Salina reef complex reservoirs of the Michigan Basin host significant hydrocarbon volumes and have recently been identified as promising targets for enhanced oil recovery and carbon sequestration. Although these carbonate buildups have been studied extensively since the late 1960s, there is still wide uncertainty and disagreement concerning their morphology and internal stratigraphic and facies architecture. The prevailing paradigm depicts the reef complexes as tall, symmetric “pinnacles” with heterogeneous internal facies distributions that are patchy and unpredictable. The current study challenges this model of the reefs by examining four Silurian reef reservoirs with abundant core and petrophysical wire-line logs.

New and existing subsurface data show that Silurian reefs in the Michigan Basin are highly asymmetric with internal facies distribution patterns that are strongly influenced by east-northeast paleowind direction. Six major depositional environments are identified during the main stage of reef complex growth based on sedimentological characteristics observed in core, as well as the vertical progression (stacking) of facies observed both in core and wire-line log signatures. A central reef core environment is identified based on interspersed coral-stromatoporoid boundstone and skeletal wackestone facies consisting of frame-building organisms such as tabulate corals and stromatoporoids, as well as intrareef faunal assemblages of bryozoans, brachiopods, crinoids, and rugose corals. Environments to the east (windward) of the central reef core are steeply inclined to the east (~40°) with narrow facies belts characterized by coarse reef talus. In contrast, environments to the west (leeward) of the central reef core have shallower slopes that dip to the west (< 15°) and are characterized by wide facies belts composed of carbonate mud and skeletal debris that become finer and thinner in the leeward direction.

Application of this new Silurian reef model to reef complexes throughout the basin demonstrates remarkable consistency with respect to the overall asymmetric shape of the reef complexes, as well as the windward-leeward internal facies architecture. The asymmetric architecture and windward-leeward facies distribution patterns described in the new model offer a significant improvement upon preexisting models for Silurian reefs in the Michigan Basin and more accurately reflect our modern understanding of how environmental controls affect reef development and architecture. Furthermore, this new reef model can be used to more accurately predict the shape and internal facies distributions for other Silurian reef complex reservoirs within the Michigan Basin, particularly those that lack abundant well control.

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