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Geologic Investigations in Western Kansas

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Geologic Investigations in Western Kansas with special reference to oil and gas possibilities

By N. W. Bass

Part I--Geology of Ellis County

Part II--Geology of Hamilton County

Part III--Geologic Structure of the Dakota Sandstone

Part IV--Structure and Limits of the Kansas Salt Beds

Prepared in cooperation with The United States Geological Survey

Cover of the book; brown-patterned paper with black text.

Originally published in 1926 as Kansas Geological Survey Bulletin 11. This is, in general, the original text as published. The information has not been updated. An Acrobat PDF version (60 MB) is also available. Note that Ogallala is spelled "Ogalalla" in the original text and in this web presentation.


By Raymond C. Moore

The report which is here offered by Mr. N. W. Bass does not undertake to consider exhaustively the oil possibilities of the entire western portion of Kansas, but presents rather the results of some months of field and office work on the subject of oil possibilities in western Kansas, continuing studies begun in Russell County by Messrs. Rubey and Bass after commercial quantities of oil were discovered in this part of the state (Rubey and Bass, 1925). The present investigation has involved special study of two counties--Ellis, which borders Russell County on the west, and Hamilton, which adjoins the Colorado boundary where the Arkansas river enters Kansas. In addition, a rapid reconnaissance of most of the remainder of western Kansas has been made in connection with the preparation of a regional structure map on the Dakota sandstone and to supplement other work on the subsurface geology of the region. The exposed formations in the vicinity of deep borings have been examined as an aid in making correlations of the rock formations penetrated in these borings. Thus, Mr. Bass' report presents, first, relatively detailed information concerning the stratigraphy, structure, underground geology and oil possibilities of two typical parts of western Kansas; and second, broad regional studies of a reconnaissance nature on the structure of the Dakota sandstone and the distribution and structure of the Permian salt.

One of the objects of the geologic investigation of Russell County was the determination of reliable key beds for structural mapping in areas where Cretaceous formations other than the hard Greenhorn limestone beds are exposed. The Greenhorn beds make persistent escarpments and can be followed by the geologist in determining the local geologic structure in essentially the same fashion as the limestones in the oil fields of eastern Kansas and Oklahoma. It was found that there are traceable key beds in other Cretaceous formations, although in general these beds are not so easily followed as the resistant limestones in the Greenhorn. With reference to oil and gas possibilities in other parts of western Kansas, it was also important to learn the nature of the fold along which oil was found in Russell County and the age and structural relations of the rocks underground where the oil occurs.

The investigations undertaken in Ellis County are a logical continuation of the Russell County studies. The Graneros, Greenhorn and Carlile formations are widely exposed in the southern, eastern and northern parts of Ellis County, and the surface structure should be rather readily determinable here, as in the Russell County district. In the central and northwestern parts of Ellis County, however, are areas covering many square miles which are underlain by higher Cretaceous rocks belonging to the Niobrara formation. Several anticlinal folds have been mapped by geologists in the Niobrara beds of Trego, Gove and Logan counties, but a question has been raised as to whether these anticlinal folds really exist or whether their supposed occurrence is based on misinterpretation of local dips that result from slumping or local faulting. Definite mappable key beds appear to be lacking in the chalk, and the determination of the supposed anticlinal folds was based on observation of dips rather than the mapping of persistent identifiable beds.

In the Ellis County district, where both the Niobrara formation and the underlying mappable beds in the Carlile, Greenhorn and Graneros formations are exposed, opportunity is probably afforded to determine, at least in some localities, whether the chalk beds are actually folded in such a way as to make observations of dip and strike reliable in determining underground structure, or whether owing to slumping and more or less intricate irregular faulting, such observations have little or no value. An important part of Mr. Bass' work in Ellis County was therefore directed to a study of the Niobrara formation. Is there pronounced slumping along the borders of the chalk, where the presence of weak shale outcropping in a slope underneath the chalk affords the best opportunity for slumping? Are there numerous faults in the chalk that are not present in the adjacent shale and thin limestone, showing that the chalk has responded to deformation in a very different way from associated beds? If this is the case, what is the explanation of the faulting? Is there a systematic arrangement of the faults, so that their trends and the amount of their throw may be used to interpret regional deformation of the underlying strata? Especially, is it possible to find in the chalk any means by which exact horizons may be recognized and traced in mapping?

As outlined in Mr. Bass' report on Ellis County, more or less satisfactory answers to these questions have been obtained. Probably the most valuable results of the Ellis County investigation will appear not simply in the discussion of oil and gas possibilities in this particular county, but in the application of observations made here to the several other counties in which the same rock formations are exposed at the surface. In this way, the Ellis County and also the Hamilton County investigations apply to most of western Kansas.

The selection of Hamilton County for special field study was based primarily on the known occurrence southwest of Syracuse of an anticlinal fold mapped by N. H. Darton, of the United States Geological Survey (Darton, 1918, p. 7; Darton, 1920a). Cretaceous rocks corresponding in a general way to those studied in Russell and Ellis counties are exposed along the Arkansas river and locally elsewhere in the county. Most of the lock exposures, however, are small. Because each part of the rock series more or less closely resembles another, especially in the shale areas, no effort had been made previously to present detailed correlations and to determine exact stratigraphic equivalence between isolated outcrops. After the discovery that in Russell and Ellis counties thin beds of bentonite in the beds beneath: the chalk may be used in the identification of exact horizons, it seemed desirable to apply methods of precise correlation and mapping to this western area, and to determine as accurately as possible the nature of the anticlinal fold reported by Darton. This investigation was the more important in connection with the study of western Kansas conditions in general, because the drilling of a deep test was in progress on this anticline. Through the courtesy of the operators samples of drill cuttings were procured and have been studied in the laboratory of the Kansas Geological Survey. The Hamilton County report thus presents information concerning a typical part of extreme western Kansas, and the knowledge of surface and underground geologic conditions in that county may be used in studying adjoining districts.

The regional map of the Dakota sandstone is an important contribution to the study of oil and gas possibilities in the western part of the state, for the reason that this rather readily traceable geologic unit affords one of the most satisfactory datum planes for the determination of geologic structure in a broad way. The map that has been prepared by Mr. Bass shows several modifications from the older, generalized map prepared on much less detailed information by N. H. Darton (Darton, 1918, pl. 1). As explained by Mr. Bass, evidences of anticlinal folding in certain parts of the state seem to offer possibilities for oil and gas production that are comparable to those in Russell County and perhaps along the buried granite ridge farther east.

A study of the distribution of the salt and its structure is very interesting in that it affords a comparison of the structure in the older rocks with that in the series that crops out at the surface. The fact that salt appears to be absent in the region of the apparent axis of the fold extending west of south from Decatur and Norton counties seems to indicate the persistence of a structurally high area in the older rocks across which the salt either was not deposited, or, if deposited, was removed by subsequent erosion due to local uplift along this line. In view of the well-known oil and gas developments of the Amarillo district, in the panhandle of Texas, the finding of gas in Seward County, Kansas, and the observations of structure that are here presented, the possibilities of commercial production of oil and gas in this part of western Kansas seem promising.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
Placed on web July 2, 2015; originally published April 1926.
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