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Black Warrior Basin

MAFLA Formation
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Dune Example

Norphlet Seif Dune


#1 Manning





The Norphlet Formation is an Upper Jurassic clastic unit that was deposited atop the LouAnn Salt in most areas of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. While this contact is inferred to be conformable in most areas, this geologist has also observed on seismic data what appear to be large erosional events (i.e., canyons, etc.) attributable to the Norphlet that have removed large volumes of the LouAnn Salt.

Based upon well penetrations in Mississippi and Alabama, the Norphlet can be subdivided into three general facies, all of which were deposited under arid climactic conditions. From bottom (oldest) to top (youngest), they are as follows:

Basal Norphlet Shale - atop the LouAnn Salt, a thin black shale is often encountered in wells that penetrate the entire Norphlet section. This basal shale should not to be confused with the fine silts that occupy the interdunal areas of the eolian facies (discussed below). The Basal Norphlet Shale rarely exceeds 50 feet in total thickness.

Arkosic Lower Norphlet - in southwest Alabama, several deep Norphlet penetrations have encountered an immature, arkosic facies of the Norphlet that is clearly distinguishable from the classic eolian facies that overlies it. It appears that this early pulse of Norphlet sediment resulted from the erosion of the Appalachian highlands located just north and east of the study area. The arkosic facies owes its pinkish-red color to the presence of significant amounts of plagioclase feldspar and other feldspathic fragments as well as ferrous oxides. Measured porosity and permeability can be quite good (20% porosity being fairly common), presumably due to the prevention of quartz overgrowths by some clay constituents and the post-depositional leaching of other constituents. To the north, in Monroe County, Alabama, a "granite wash" has been encountered in many wells that appears to represent the updip equivalent of the arkose. Since most Norphlet penetrations stop in the upper, eolian portion of the unit, little is known about this intriguing older facies. As mentioned above, seismic data indicates that there are several large canyons attributable to this arkose that are undocumented in the current literature.

Eolian Upper Norphlet - easily the most recognizable facies of the Norphlet, the eolian sediments that comprise the upper part of the Norphlet are typified by classic eolian characteristics such as high-angle cross-bedding, frosted grains, and uniquely wind-shaped geomorphological features. Constrained by existing well control, this eolian facies has been encountered across southern Alabama, southwestern Mississippi, and their offshore state and federal waters. In central Choctaw County, Alabama, the upper Norphlet is characterized by a uniform deposition of long "seif" dunes that are dip oriented (i.e., trend northeast-southwest); these dunes are approximately one mile in width (from interdunal axis to interdunal axis), as much as 20 miles long, and up to 800 feet in thickness along their narrow crestal axes.  Please click here to view a 2D seismic example of a Norphlet seif dune in Alabama.

Across the state line into Mississippi, another series of seif dunes trend perpendicular to those in Choctaw County; in Clark County, Mississippi, for example, the seif dunes are aligned northwest-southeast. These two seif dune trends coalesce or collide in the Greene County, Mississippi / southern Washington County, Alabama area, resulting in the formation of large "star" dunes. To the southeast of that area, in the Mobile Bay / OCS area, a trend of seif dunes are aligned almost north-south. Seif dunes in the Norphlet have been encountered as far south as the Destin Dome OCS area south of Pensacola, Florida.

At the very top of the Norphlet, a reworked Norphlet clastic facies is often encountered. This sand, reworked by the encroaching Smackover sea, is very hard, white, and usually nonporous. It will also frequently contain considerable pyrite precipitated as a result of the interaction of hydrogen sulfide generated by the overlying Brown Dense Limestone with the iron-bearing constituents of the Norphlet.

The SP (Spontaneous Potential) Curve is one log curve that should not be used to condemn a sandstone logged in the Norphlet Sand interval.  Many prolific Norphlet Sand wells exhibit little or no SP Curve deflection on the correlation/induction log, suggesting a very silty or shaley composition; yet the porosity log and the Microlog will indicate reservoir-quality porosity and permeability.  In those areas where the top of the Norphlet exhibits little or no SP Curve deflection, the interface between the overlying Brown Dense Limestone of the Lower Smackover and the top of the Norphlet Sand can be picked at the typically well-defined, sharp increase in API units on the Gamma Ray curve.  Oil-productive wadi and arkosic facies of the Norphlet can also exhibit remarkably low induction resistivity; accordingly, it is critically important to thoroughly evaluate such facies when encountered, especially when mudlog and core data indicate the presence of hydrocarbons.

As evidenced by the impressive single-well production rates recorded onshore (>3,000 BOPD at Womack Hill Field, in Choctaw County, Alabama) and offshore (>70 MMCFGPD in several wells in the OCS fields south of Mobile Bay), the Norphlet can be a very prolific reservoir, and certainly represents an attractive target in Vision's core areas - provided one knows where to look. Stratigraphically positioned as it is beneath the Lower Smackover Brown Dense source rock, the Norphlet Sandstone only becomes the recipient of Smackover hydrocarbons when certain very specific conditions are met.

While the author admits that the following Rule-Of-Thumb owes its origin to anecdotal evidence, its success as a predictor of Norphlet hydrocarbon potential is invaluable when considering the economic value of a Norphlet drilling proposal. Here it is:


Applicable to the MAFLA and Contiguous Offshore Areas

 For any given trap, the Norphlet Sandstone will only receive a commercial volume of Smackover hydrocarbons after all of the available Smackover porosity above it has been filled.


 The optimal areas wherein to locate large volumes of hydrocarbons within the Norphlet Sandstone are those areas where the overlying Smackover carbonate is devoid of porosity (tight).

The author has found that this Rule-Of-Thumb has worked remarkably well in predicting the commercial outcome of many Norphlet wildcat tests. It becomes useful, for example, when one is presented with a drilling proposal that seeks to gain a maximum of 50 feet of structural advantage above a flank dry hole that had 100 feet of Upper Smackover porosity, and that encountered three feet of oil floating on water in the very top of that porosity. While such a proposal represents a valid - indeed attractive - Smackover prospect, one should be skeptical of any accompanying assertion that the proposed offset could also find meaningful oil reserves trapped in the Norphlet (i.e., representing it to be a valid secondary target). With only 53 feet of maximum oil column height, and 100 feet of porosity, it is logical to deduce that the Smackover porosity cannot be completely filled on that structural trap; accordingly, following the Rule-Of-Thumb, the possibility of finding a Norphlet oil accumulation - even at the very crest of that structural closure - is extremely small.

Vision Exploration has thirty years of experience in the Smackover and Norphlet trends of Mississippi and Alabama. Several areas within those trends have yielded valuable prospects for the company's current Program inventory.  Note - to view a second, lower resistivity Norphlet log (besides the one shown below), please click here.

Discovery Well - Chavers Creek Field