From Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin (
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PBS-SEPM Luncheon Meeting, Midland, Texas, January 21, 2003

Bringing Outcrops to Life as Animated 3D Models:
Application to Wolfcamp Deepwater Carbonate Play

Charlie Kerans and Jerome A. Bellian


Exploration and exploitation in the Permian Basin has always been greatly aided access to some of the world's best outcrop analogs. The ability to compare different styles of carbonate platform/platform margin reservoir heterogeneity to equivalent outcrops in the Guadalupe, Delaware, Sierra Diablo, Sacremento, Hueco, Franklin, or other mountains has enhanced geologists and engineers interpretations of the subsurface. This being said, none of us will ever get to all the outcrops we would like to see, and only the rare few will be able to fully understand and apply the lessons learned. New laser-imaging technology (LIDAR, or in this specific application, ILRIS) is permitting researchers at the BEG to come closer to the goal of generating a database of fully 3D high-resolution spatially correct models of outcrops and their contained stratigraphic and petrophysical variabilities. We will illustrate this new laser technology as it applies to deepwater carbonate slope/basin-floor strata that provide analogs for the "Wolfcamp debris" play of the Permian Basin.

Deepwater carbonate reservoirs remain one of the least understood and least exploited systems in the geologic record. Deepwater reservoirs of Permian age constitute an important play in the Permian Basin, forming a series of small pools in Glasscock County, Eastern Shelf, a trend associated with the Amacker Tippet field in Upton County in front of the Central Basin Platform, and downdip of the Northwest Shelf of the Permian Basin in New Mexico. Reservoir strata are dominantly grain-dominated high-density turbidites or grain-flows shed off the latest Wolfcampian-early Leonardian shelf margins during periods of high-amplitude sealevel rise and fall in early Permian times. Some of the systems are channelized, others form fans, and still others are apron-like. Flow-barriers are interstratfied mud-dominated debris flows and hemipelagic mudstones.

An outcrop of latest Wolfcampian Hueco Group and earliest Leonardian Bone Spring/Victorio Peak Formation in Victorio Canyon is selected to illustrate the complex internal architecture of these deepwater carbonates. 3D models of this carbonate slope-basin system were constructed from tens of millions of laser survey points, 22 measured sections, and detailed photomosaic mapping. Comparison of 3D models from the outcrop and reservoirs highlights the importance of stratigraphic architecture in defining producing trends and internal flow barriers and compartments.