N041 Extensional Tectonics and Normal Fault Patterns (Utah, USA)

Course Facts

Course Code:
7 days
Physical Demand:
5.6 Continuing Education Units
56 Professional Development Hours
Certificate Issued Upon Completion


This course is a field, lecture and practical based investigation of extensional tectonics and normal fault patterns in the northern Paradox Basin, SE Utah, aimed at both geoscientists and engineers. Participants examine the superbly exposed, salt-detached, fault and relay ramp structures of the northern Paradox Basin and the Moab Fault system. Comparisons with subsurface analogues will be made throughout the course, and implications for trap development and reservoir compartmentalization discussed. Incorrect mapping of linked fault systems is common across the petroleum industry, from regional scale exploration to detailed, development scale fault mapping. In a workstation driven environment faults are often only interpreted as simple sticks on vertical seismic profiles, with scant regard for there geometry and complexity in 3D. This course aims to improve understanding of linkage within normal fault systems through analysis of world-class examples of relay and breached really ramps. Participants can then integrate these field-based models into their subsurface interpretations, thereby increasing their chances for exploration success and decreasing chances of unpleasant surprises during development drilling.

Duration and Training Method

A seven-day field course in Moab, Utah, USA, with the proportion of field to classroom approximately 70:30.

The course is a combination of lectures, practicals using seismic data and analysis of field examples. Field time in the excellent outcrops of SE Utah will be maximised. Course materials will include a classroom manual and field guide along with a number of seismic lines and paper exercises. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own data for discussion.

Participants will learn to:

  1. Assess the stratigraphy and principal structural controls on the Paradox Basin, SE Utah.
  2. Appraise the role of salt tectonics on the development of major fault systems in the region.
  3. Evaluate the mechanisms of faulting, fault propagation, and the controls on the size, distribution, and population of normal faults.
  4. Analyze, through superbly exposed field examples the geometry and evolution of relay ramps and breached relay ramps.
  5. Propose sub-seismic fault populations and understand the impact of near-fault deformation on reservoir compartmentalization and fault seal in high porosity sandstone reservoirs.
  6. Scale-up evolutionary models of normal fault growth and basin filling mechanisms to large-scale rift basins.
  7.  Use field-based models to improve seismic interpretation of linked faults systems in the subsurface and develop methodologies for defining structural traps.

The focus of the course will be on the structural development of extensional basins and controls on stratigraphic sequences that develop in rifts. We will examine the causes of crustal extension and the mechanisms, geometries, scale and growth of normal faults. Rift basin models and the effects of fault evolution on depocentre and stratigraphic development are addressed in detail. Instruction at outcrop, with field and practical exercises complements the theoretical background presented in classroom lectures. 

Below is a provisional course itinerary, this may vary depending on prevailing weather conditions.

Day 0
Participants arrive in Grand Junction

Day 1
Drive from Grand Junction to Moab with overview stops on route (Dead Horse Point - Overview of Canyonlands stratigraphy and the seismic scale of basin structures).

Day 2
Morning field excursion – examination of the structure of the Spanish Valley-Moab area. Afternoon lectures - introduction to course lectures and practicals, mechanisms of faulting,  relay ramp development and evolution rift basin models, geometry of extensional faults, seismic interpretation of normal faults, Fault interpretation and correlation exercises.

Day 3
Field work all day – examination of the structure of the Moab Fault zone using transects of the fault to study fault zone geometry, relay ramp and breached relay ramp geometries, associated structures and variation in fault rocks. Discussion of fault seal attributes of the Moab fault zone, fluid flow across the fault.

Day 4
All day classroom lectures covering topics including, normal fault population analysis, predicting faults below seismic resolution and map view geometry of normal fault arrays. Upscaling of field examples to discuss the development of stratigraphic sequences in rift basins using the Gulf of Suez as a type example. There will be some free time in the afternoon for participants to explore the Moab area.

Day 5
 An early start allows a full day in the Canyonlands Grabens system, Canyonlands National Park for a detailed analysis of relay ramps, breached relay ramps, and the control of fault growth on drainage patterns and sedimentation.

Day 6
 A late morning start after the long Canyonlands day with the rest of the day spent on a field excursion to Arches National Park to study small scale deformation in sandstone reservoirs, reservoir compartmentalisation, hangingwall rollover geometries, relay ramp deformation concluding with a hike  to Delicate Arch for sunset.

Day 7
 Morning overflight of the Canyonlands Grabens, Moab Fault and Arches National Park. Course wrap up. Drive from Moab to Grand Junction with lunch and several easy field stops on the way. End of course dinner.

Day 8
Participants Fly Home.

Who should attend

 This course is multi-disciplinary and designed for: (i) exploration and development geologists and geophysicists concerned with the exploration and exploitation of clastic reservoirs in extensional settings (ii) reservoir and production engineers seeking more information about compartmentalization and fluid-flow in relay ramp settings and (iii) asset managers responsible for exploitation of clastic reservoirs in rift basins world-wide.

Prerequisites and linking courses

 It is assumed that participants have a basic knowledge of structural geology and sedimentology before attending this course. A solid structural geology foundation is provided by Nautilus Training Alliance class N016 (Structural Geology for Petroleum Exploration, Nevada). Courses N144: The Corinth Rift: Normal Faults, Tectonics and Stratigraphic Architecture (Gulf of Corinth, Greece), N202: Charaterising Continental Rift Infills: Depositional Analysis and Extensional Development of theTriassic Fundy Basin (Nova Scotia, Canada), N333: Factors Affecting Rift-Basin and Passive Margin Evolution: Examples from the Fundy and Orpheus Basins (Nova Scotia, Canada) and N407: Predicting Reservoir and Petroleum Systems in Rifts and Extensional Basins (New Mexico and Colorado, USA), cover tectonics and sedimentation rift systems.

 The physical demands for this class are MODERATE according to the Nautilus Training Alliance field course grading system. This is primarily due to the altitude (4,000-4,500ft/1000-1200m) and prevailing hot and dry conditions in the field area. There are 3 hikes on this class up to 3 miles/5km in length with up to 660 feet/200m of elevation gain. The remainder of the field stops involve walking a few hundred yards/metres with little significant elevation gain. One day involves a long and tiring drive into Canyonlands National Park, conditions are typically hot, and the ride can be uncomfortable in the specialist Jeeps hired for the purpose. On this day the group is expected to be out for around 14-15 hours.

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Bruce Trudgill

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Excellent outcrops and training materials. I'll definitely recommend the course to my work associates.