I recently wrote a blog post on the Smoky Hill Member of the Niobrara formation. While researching I was looking at some paleo maps, and thought it would be a neat idea to create a visual representation that shows the United States throughout geologic time. You can find the animation below. While watching you will notice that I have outlined the location of some unconventional plays at their time of deposition.
Oil generally forms in shallow marine environments where carbon rich organic matter can accumulate. Sometimes it is difficult to imagine a shallow marine environment existing in parts of the country far from the ocean, such as the Niobrara in Colorado or the Bakken in North Dakota. It is important to remember, however, that the landscape of the United States has changed dramatically throughout geologic history.
Due to the push and pull of plate tectonics, the North American continent has moved, combined, and separated with other landmasses. One of these landmasses was Pangea, a supercontinent that existed in the late Paleozoic and Early Mesozoic approximately 200 to 300 million years ago.
Unlike today, where most of the landmass resides in the Northern Hemisphere, Pangea was located primarily in the Southern Hemisphere. This is a great example of how much the continents have changed throughout time.
As the geography of the United States has changed, the places that are likely to produce oil in the future have changed as well. Using paleo maps from the DI 2.0 application we can visualize the continental United States beginning with the Cambrian (570 Million years ago) to the Holocene (the present).
Petroleum geologists can use maps such as these to better understand the depositional environments of the past which can be helpful in finding new places to drill for oil. A lot of things can occur over millions of years, so in addition to the location of oil plays I have noted other interesting geologic events and fossils present at different times in the video.
What do you think? Leave a comment below.