Publication Date

Spring 2016

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Michael T. May (Director), Patricia Kambesis, Fredrick D. Siewers

Degree Program

Department of Geography and Geology

Degree Type

Master of Science


The Big Clifty (Jackson) Sandstone Member of the Golconda Formation is the most important of the Mississippian (Chesterian) heavy-oil reservoirs in the southeastern Illinois Basin. Heavy oil reservoirs, or asphalt rock deposits, have been studied extensively in south central and western Kentucky, and ~2 billion barrels of original oil in place (OOIP) have been proposed to occur in the Big Clifty Sandstone. Despite high OOIP estimates, heterogeneities in the reservoir negatively impact the production of heavy oil deposits. Heterogeneities related to depositional facies changes are poorly understood in the Big Clifty Sandstone of Kentucky, where it has been mostly described as a 60-120 feet thick sandstone unit. In some locations, the Big Clifty occurs as two distinct sand bodies with intercalated mud-rich units and, most typically, with the greatest clay- and silt-rich units present between sandstone bodies. Questions exist as to how such muddy facies occur in the reservoir.

This study couples sedimentary facies analysis with sequence stratigraphy to assess how lithological factors affect the occurrence of petroleum in Big Clifty reservoirs. Multiple datasets were integrated to develop a depositional model for lithologic facies observed in this study. Datasets include core, exposure descriptions, petrographic analysis, bitumen concentrations, electrical resistivity tomography (ERT), and borehole geophysical analysis. This study occurred in Logan, Warren, and Butler counties, with emphasis on an active asphalt-rock mine in Logan County. Surface geophysical methods aided in demarcating Chesterian limestones, sandstone bodies and, in particular, highly resistive heavy-oil laden Big Clifty channel bodies.

In Warren County, located E-NE of the Stampede Mine, the Big Clifty coalesces into a single amalgamated sandstone channel or a series of superimposed stacked channels as observed in outcrop along Indian Creek at McChesney Field Station and at Jackson’s Orchard. In these locations, the tidal influence is subtle with large-scale trough cross bedding dominating, and the contact on the Beech Creek Limestone is sharp. Facies changes related to the environment of deposition greatly impact the quality of heavy-oil reservoirs and must be taken into consideration during exploration and siting of asphalt rock mines.


Geology | Geophysics and Seismology | Other Earth Sciences