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Characterization of the unconventional Tuscaloosa marine shale reservoir in southwestern Mississippi, USA: Insights from optical and SEM petrography

July 18, 2020

This study presents new optical petrography and electron microscopy data, interpreted in the context of previously published petrophysical, geochemical, and mineralogical data, to further characterize the Tuscaloosa marine shale (TMS) as an unconventional reservoir in southwestern Mississippi. The basal high resistivity zone has a higher proportion of Type II sedimentary organic matter than the overlying TMS, indicating it is more prone to oil generation. Optical petrography and electron microscopy reveal a heterogeneous clay matrix with ubiquitous pyrite grains, quartz, feldspar, glaucony, foraminifera, shell fragments, and rarer occurrences of apatite and crinoid fragments as well as liptinite, alginite, inertinite, and vitrinite. Our petrographic observations suggest that higher abundances of detrital quartz grains coupled with minimal authigenic cements result in higher porosity and permeability. However, the TMS is also more clay-rich than other unconventional shale oil and gas plays, which can impair the effectiveness of hydraulic fracture stimulation. Thin section observations reveal alternating clay and calcium carbonate laminae that are interpreted to reflect changes in sediment flux. Planktonic foraminifera indicate an overlying oxygenated water column while benthic inoceramid fragments and pervasive authigenic pyrite suggest anoxic or dysoxic bottom water conditions. Apatite fragments in thin section suggest mixing events and an influx of nutrient-rich sediments. Overall, these observations suggest that a variety of paleodepositional environments occurred in the TMS and the lithofacies diversity resulting from these small-scale depositional cycles makes it difficult to determinatively identify areas conducive to enhanced economic hydrocarbon recovery.