Integrated Methods for Deep-Water Reservoir Characterization

Course Description

Deep-water depositional systems form some of the largest petroleum reservoirs on Earth and represent the frontier of oil and gas exploration. However, deep-water depositional systems remain the least well understood because sediment gravity flows, including turbidity currents and hybrid and debris flows, are both infrequent and difficult to predict and monitor, setting them apart from sediment transport processes occurring on mountain tops and shallow marine settings. Therefore, modern seismic data and, in particular, deep-water outcrops provide prime sources of stratigraphic data used to risk drilling targets and build reservoir models at every phase in the upstream exploration and production process. This course focuses on sub-bed-scale and field-scale architectural elements in deep-water depositional systems and how they affect the main risks in deep-water E&P across the value chain: reservoir presence, deliverability, seal and trap.

  • The course has three main themes:
  • Sediment gravity flows, sedimentation mechanics and resulting bed configuration.
  • Depositional elements in the core, outcrop, and seismic scale.

Application and interpretation of risk and uncertainty from new ventures to field development and EOR. The impact of deep-water reservoir architecture on field success will be investigated through modeling theory, to derive strategies for optimal outcomes over a range of uncertainty. Case studies will be used to illustrate each topic and determine appealing workflows. This course will alternate between inclusive lectures, hands-on technical demonstrations, and collaborative exercises involving practical application of cores, outcrops, logs, and seismic data. The course starts with an overview of how sediment is transported and deposited from shelf to bathyal depths and focuses on the broad range of sedimentary processes and depositional environments. Individual and team exercises involving core and outcrop samples allow participants to describe samples and interpret their mechanism of deposition and their range of possible depositional environments. Next, a deeper dive into depositional environments illustrates the types of facies, as well as depositional and stratigraphic architecture, likely to be found along the deep-water depositional system from submarine canyon to basin plain. Collaborative exercises using core, outcrop, and seismic examples highlight the range of deep-water depositional environments and their effect on reservoir architecture and development. The skills of core description and integration, reservoir characterization, and sequence stratigraphy are emphasized. Core-log-seismic exercises will show modern techniques on how to predict variations in reservoir architecture in deep-water depositional systems. This course will conclude with a discussion summarizing modern advancements in the prediction of sedimentary deposits, facies, and reservoir development in a variety of different settings.

Course Objectives

This course will give participants an understanding of the broad scope of marine siliciclastic depositional systems. Upon completion of the course, participants will be able to:

  • Describe transport and depositional processes of deep-water strata including turbidites, debrites, and transitional to hybrid flow type deposits
  • Understand the different types of marine depositional environments (deltaic and outer shelf environments and those of submarine fans — canyon, channel, levee, splay, overbank) and their implications to petroleum reservoir architecture and reservoir quality
  • Understand and interpret modern and ancient marine depositional systems
  • Characterize marine stratigraphy and build relationships with depositional environments using outcrop, core, and other oil and gas industry data
  • Use lithofacies and stratigraphic architecture to understand variations in deep-water reservoir properties pertaining to petroleum reservoir presence, quality, and seal presence
  • Conceptualize and apply source-to-sink transport and sequence stratigraphic methods to marine and deep-water sediment delivery
  • Apply skills in seismic interpretation, reservoir characterization, core analysis, geophysical log interpretation, sequence stratigraphy, play fairway mapping, risk and uncertainty analysis, gross depositional environment mapping, and oil and gas exploration methods

Course Outline

  1. Introduction to marine depositional systems with a focus on deep-water depositional systems
    • Significance of deep-water petroleum reservoirs to the global oil and gas industry
    • Scientific and economic drivers for understanding sediment gravity flows and their deposits
    • Sediment gravity flows in action - historic sediment gravity flows from Canada, France, Norway, and United States
  2. Reservoir prediction: Transport and sedimentation processes of sediment gravity flows
    • Types of mass movement and deep-water deposits
    • Physics of sediment gravity flows and rheology, and steady vs uniform flows
    • Predictive attributes of deep-water sedimentation to reservoir and seal presence, and reservoir quality
  3. Basic building blocks of clastic petroleum reservoirs: The range and variability of deep-water sedimentation units
    • High- and low-density turbidity currents and their impacts on petroleum reservoir development
    • Bouma and Lowe turbidite models and their application to reservoir characterization
    • Debris flows and their impact on submarine fan sedimentation
    • Transitional flows, slurry flows, and hybrid events and their classifications - M & H divisions and their impact on reservoir quality
    • Mass-transport deposits (MTD) and review of other sediment remobilization processes, including contour currents and contourite deposits
  4. Source-to-sink concepts and impact on reservoir quality
    • Source-to-sink method application to oil and gas exploration and production
    • Paralic and shallow-marine processes of sedimentation
    • Facies models and reservoir characterization for shallow-marine environments
    • River-, tide-, and wave-dominated deltas, and fan deltas
    • What are the different types of clinoforms observed in seismic data, and what is their role in sediment delivery to deep-water basins?
    • Incised valleys as prospective oil and gas targets
    • Ichnofacies of terrigenous, shallow-marine, and deep-marine depositional environments
  5. The five main deep-water depositional environments according to 2D and 3D seismic, outcrop, core, and log data
    • Canyons
    • Channels
    • Levees
    • Lobes (splays), with an introduction to deep-water braided channel and lobe systems
    • Overbank
  6. Scales of petroleum reservoir heterogeneity: Architectural elements
    • What are the various methods of stratigraphic interpretation and genetic element classification in reservoir characterization?
    • Sub-bed scale architecture and Turbidite Ratios
  7. Active margins vs. passive margins: Deep-water sedimentary basins and their facies models
    • What are the effects of tectonic setting, shelf geometry, climate, and other critical factors on deep-water sedimentation?
    • Rifts
    • Range and variability in passive margin facies models
    • Salt and its effects on sediment transport and deposition
    • What are typical facies models for active margins? Discuss strike-slip and convergent margins, and hybrid basins associated with active margins
    • Intracratonic basins
    • Foreland basins
    • Forearc and hybrid basins
  8. Large-scale drivers of continental margin sedimentation and application of sequence stratigraphic methods to exploration and appraisal
    • How was sequence stratigraphy developed by Grabau, Sloss, Mitchum, Vail, Thompson, Hubbard, Van Wagoner, and others? How is it applied? What are the strengths and limitations of a sequence stratigraphic approach?
    • AIGR model
    • Provenance and source-to-sink methods to understand sediment transfer and application to reservoir presence and reservoir quality
    • How do you know you’re in a deep-water depositional system? A review of key similarities and differences with deep-water systems and other systems including fluvial and shallow-marine environments
  9. Conclusions and recent advancements in deep-water petroleum reservoirs

Participants’ Profile

The course is designed for employees of natural resource companies in technical and management positions. Industry professionals will receive an understanding of deep-water sedimentary transport processes and depositional products, as well as knowledgeable insight into the scale and architecture of the wide range of deep-water reservoirs. This course draws from materials presented in Basin Dynamics, LLC field trips of major deep-water sedimentary outcrops worldwide.


Participants should have knowledge of basic reservoir and exploration and development concepts, as well as experience with common geological, geophysical and engineering data.

Recommended Reading

  • Beaubouef, R.T., Rossen, C.R., Zelt, F.B., Sullivan, M.D., Mohrig, D.C., Jennette, D.C., Bellian, J.A., Friedman, S.J., Lovell, R.W., Shannon, D.S., 1999. Deep-water sandstones, Brushy Canyon Formation, West Texas: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Bulletin, Continuing Education Course Note Series #40, 48 p.
  • Haughton, P., Davis, C., McCaffrey, W., Barker, S., 2009. Hybrid sediment gravity flow deposits — Classification, origin and significance: Marine and Petroleum Geology, v. 26, p. 1900-1918.
  • Lowe, D.R., 1982. Sediment gravity flows: II. Depositional models with special reference to the deposits of high-density turbidity currents: Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, v. 52, p. 279-297.
  • Marchand, A.M., Apps, G., Li, W., Rotzien, J.R., 2015. Depositional processes and impact on reservoir quality in deepwater Paleogene reservoirs, US Gulf of Mexico: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Bulletin. DOI: 10.1306/04091514189
  • Morris, E.A., Hodgson, D.M., Brunt, R.L., Flint, S.S., 2014. Origin, evolution and anatomy of silt-prone submarine external levees: Sedimentology, v. 61, p. 1734-1763.

About the Instructor

Dr. Jon R. Rotzien is President of Basin Dynamics, LLC and Adjunct Professor at University of Houston. His expertise is the sedimentology and stratigraphy of deep-water depositional systems, source-to-sink sediment transfer, and basin analysis. Jon addresses global challenges in the exploration and production of petroleum, including reservoir presence and quality forecasting in frontier to mature basins, and reservoir connectivity and deliverability. Prior to his present position at Basin Dynamics, he was an exploration and appraisal geoscientist at BP. He has published peer-reviewed research papers and scientific conference proceedings pertaining to petroleum geology, reservoir quality, reservoir characterization, sequence stratigraphy, process sedimentology, basin analysis, and geophysics, and he teaches petroleum reservoir courses in North America, South America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. He is a Distinguished Award winner of GCSSEPM (2018), associate editor of the Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology and co-founder of the Houston Explorers Club. Mr. Rotzien received a Ph.D. in Geological and Environmental Sciences from Stanford University and a B.A. degree in Geology from Colorado College.