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System: Pennsylvanian

Lower Desmoinesian--Summary

This Lower Desmoinesian Play information is from the U. S. Geological Survey 1995 National Assessment of United States Oil and Gas Resources (available on CD-ROM from the U.S.G.S. as Digital Data Series DDS-30, Release 2).

Lower Desmoinesian Stratigraphic Gas and Oil Play

by Mitchell E. Henry and Timothy C. Hester

Desmoinesian, Missourian, and Virgilian strata were deposited in transgressive-regressive cycles that periodically inundated the Anadarko Basin area with marine environments. These depositional cycles are reflected in alternating sandstone and limestone lithologies (interbedded with shale) that can be separated into stratigraphic packages of mostly sandstone or mostly limestone reservoirs (Moore, 1979; Rascoe and Adler, 1983). Each epoch consists of 1 sandstone-limestone cycle, which we have then subdivided into 2 plays, a mostly-sandstone play (lower part) and a mostly limestone play (upper part). Because the upper boundaries of the limestone plays coincide with epoch boundaries, stratigraphic correlations are relatively straightforward and universally understandable (for example, top of the Desmoinesian, top of the Missourian, and so forth). However, within epochs, chronostratigraphic and nomenclatural inconsistencies greatly complicate a precise definition of the play boundaries. Nevertheless, a rough description of these somewhat conceptual boundaries are given for each play.

The Lower Desmoinesian Stratigraphic Gas and Oil Play contains mostly sandstone reservoirs, and consists of all strata of the Middle Pennsylvanian Cherokee Group and those correlative strata in the lower part of the Middle Pennsylvanian Deese Group. The upper boundary of this play is the top of the Lower Desmoinesian Cherokee Group, which is represented in most areas by the Prue sand or its correlatives. This play extends throughout the province, except that part near the southern boundary where Lower Desmoinesian strata are absent, parts of eastern Colorado, and that part included in Deep Stratigraphic Gas Play. Depths to the top of the Prue sand (the uppermost unit of the Cherokee Group) range from 3,500 ft on the northern shelf to about 12,000 ft near the Wichita Mountains front. Almost all major reservoirs assigned to this play are sandstone, but limestone reservoirs do exist. The predominance of sandstone reservoirs is the principal defining feature of this play.


Reservoirs consist of all Lower Desmoinesian sandstones and limestones, including the Burgess, Bartlesville, Red Fork, Skinner, Prue, Osborne, Pooler, Hart, and Charleston sands. Rocks in this play generally thicken to the south, reaching an estimated 1,500 ft along the Wichita Mountains front. The Red Fork sands in north-central Oklahoma, which were deposited as stream channels and offshore sand bars (Withrow, 1968), are probably typical of other Lower Desmoinesian sands as well. The relative proportions of sandstone and shale in the Red Fork sand vary in the play from mostly sand in the northeastern part of the province (Withrow, 1968) to mostly shale in the deeper-water facies (Whiting, 1984). Porosity of these rocks ranges from 12 to 15 percent. Farther south and west, toward the deep Anadarko Basin, Red Fork sands developed as the result of channelized density transport (Whiting, 1984). Porosity of these deeper sands range from 1 to 17 percent, with an average of about 8 percent. Permeabilities in all areas are often low, averaging about 0.1 mD (Whiting,1984). Reservoir quality in both areas is expected to be variable (Withrow, 1968; Whiting, 1984; Levine, 1984).

Source rocks

Middle and Upper Pennsylvanian black shales overall have good genetic potential (Burruss and Hatch, 1989). TOC, which ranges from 0 to 18 percent, is from a mixture of types II and III kerogens. Burial histories (Schmoker, 1989) indicate most of the Oklahoma and Texas parts of this play are thermally mature with respect to oil generation; the Kansas and Colorado parts are not. Major accumulations located in thermally mature areas are probably sourced by the surrounding shales. In the immature areas of Kansas, petroleum migration from Woodford Shale or Ordovician shales may have occurred. Some immature areas in Colorado may even have been sourced from the Denver basin (Burruss and Hatch, 1992).

Timing and migration

Modeling by Schmoker (1989) suggests that potential source rocks of the Cherokee Group may have entered the thermal zone of oil generation at about 250 Ma. Favorable timing of trap development and hydrocarbon generation and migration is evidenced by the presence of numerous major accumulations in this play.


Reservoir trap types are mostly stratigraphic (Bingham, 1993), with a few influenced by structure. Traps probably formed as shales were deposited over porous channel-filling subaerial or submarine sands, or over offshore bars; seals are probably formed by enclosing shales (Withrow, 1968).

Exploration status

This play is well explored, with more than 37,000 reported wells although the actual total probably exceeds 53,000. The play is most densely drilled in Oklahoma and Texas. Seventy-nine major accumulations are assigned to this play, 24 oil and 55 gas. The largest oil accumulation is at Cherokita Trend, with an estimated ultimate recovery of 30 MMBO. The largest gas accumulation is at North Moorwood field, with an estimated ultimate recovery of 1.5 TCFG.

Resource potential

In spite of being well explored and already producing from a large number of major accumulations, this play is expected to contain significant undiscovered resources. The parts of this play in Kansas and Colorado, however, show low thermal maturity levels, have poorer reservoir quality and overall fewer sands than the parts of the play in Oklahoma and Texas and are therefore not projected to have as much resource potential. Historical data on major discoveries, individual well completions, and thermal maturity were used extensively in assessing this play.

Play Map

map showing fields in this play


Burruss, R.C., and Hatch, J.R., 1989, Geochemistry of oils and hydrocarbon source rocks, greater Anadarko basin--evidence for multiple sources of oils and long-distance oil migration, in Johnson, K.S., ed., Anadarko Basin Symposium, 1988: Oklahoma Geological Survey Circular 90, p. 53-64.

Burruss, R.C., and Hatch, J.R., 1992, Geochemistry of Pennsylvanian crude oils and source rocks in the greater Anadarko basin--Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska: An update [abs.], in Johnson, K.S., and Cardott, B.J., eds., Source rocks in the southern Midcontinent, 1990 Symposium: Oklahoma Geological Survey Circular 93, p. 197.

Lavine, S.A., 1984, Provenance and diagenesis of the Cherokee sandstones, deep Anadarko basin, western Oklahoma: Shale Shaker, v. 34, p. 120-144.

Moore, G.E., 1979, Pennsylvanian paleogeography of the southern Midcontinent, in Hyne, N.J., ed., Pennsylvanian sandstones of the mid-continent: Tulsa Geological Society Special Publication no. 1, p. 2-12.

Rascoe, Bailey, Jr., and Adler, F.J., 1983, Permo-Carboniferous hydrocarbon accumulations, Mid-Continent, U.S.A.: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v.67, no. 6, p. 979-1001.

Schmoker, J.W., 1989, Thermal maturity of the Anadarko basin, in Johnson, K.S., ed., Anadarko Basin Symposium, 1988: Oklahoma Geological Survey Circular 90, p. 25-31.

Whiting, P.H., 1984, Depositional environment of Redfork sandstones, deep Anadarko basin, western Oklahoma: Shale Shaker Digest 11, p. 120-144.

Withrow, P.C., 1968, Depositional environments of Pennsylvanian Red Fork Sandstone in northeastern Anadarko basin, Oklahoma: American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin, v. 52, no. 9, p. 1638-1654.

Kansas Geological Survey, Digital Petroleum Atlas
Updated July 17, 1996
Comments to webadmin@kgs.ku.edu