Field Studies: Structural Diagenesis

Outcrop-Based Structural Diagenesis Studies

Outcrop-based studies are a key part of the SDI program. Many M.S. thesis projects in our program contain a field component. Outcrops are in many cases the only way to measure key fracture attributes. Fracture length, for example, is not readily measured in the subsurface.

Field work a key part of the SDI program

Field work is a key part of the SDI program

But outcrops need to be used with care. Many outcrop fracture patterns are not representative of fractures existing in the subsurface. We identify suitable outcrops using structural diagenesis criteria. This assures that we investigate fractures that formed in the subsurface, and allows us to rigorously compare fractures in outcrop with those found in core.

Procedures for selecting outcrops and analyzing fractures in outcrop are outlined on the FRAC web site under Transfer Modules: Outcrops and in Laubach and Ward, 2006 and Lander and Laubach 2015 (see below).

The following papers highlight some of the areas we have worked. This is not an exhaustive list, but it does show some key areas where we’ve had a presence over several years.

Currently, student thesis and dissertation field work is underway in Western Canada, Wyoming (Tetons), Utah, Nevada, southern Argentina, New York, and Scotland.

See the Fault Diagenesis research tab for more information on SDI work on faults.

Field guides are available for many of these areas. Photographs from selected field expeditions can be found under the SD Field Symposium and Field Expeditions tabs. Contact us if you plan a field trip, we’re glad to help.

Selected Outcrop Study References

Texas | Outcrop

  • Gale, J. F. W., 2002 Specifying lengths of horizontal wells in fractured reservoirs: Society of Petroleum Engineers Reservoir Evaluation and Engineering, 5, no. 3, 266–272. (Includes Austin Chalk outcrop study)
  • Marrett, R., Ortega, O.O., and Kelsey, C., 1999, Power-law scaling of natural fractures in rock: Geology, 27, 799-802.

Western North America  | Outcrop

  • Wang, Q., Laubach, S.E., Gale, J.F.W., and Ramos, M.J., 2019. Quantified fracture (joint) clustering in Archean basement, Wyoming: application of Normalized Correlation Count method. Petroleum Geoscience. doi:10.1144/petgeo2018-146 | view  | blog post
  • Eichhubl, Peter, and Flodin, E., 2005, Brittle deformation, fluid flow, and diagenesis in sandstone at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, in Pederson, J., and Dehler, C. M., eds., Interior Western United States: Geological Society of America Field Guides, v. 6, 151-167, doi: 10.1130/2005.fld006(07).
  • Hennings, P.H., Olson, J.E., and Thompson, L.B., 2000, Combining outcrop data and three-dimensional structural models to characterize fractured reservoirs: An example from Wyoming. AAPG Bulletin 84/6, 830-849. | AAPG Notable Paper
  • Ortega, O.O. and Marrett, R., 2000, Prediction of macrofracture properties using microfracture information, Mesaverde Group sandstones, San Juan Basin, New Mexico. Journal of Structural Geology, 22, 571-588.

Eastern U.S.  | Outcrop

  • Pommer, L., Gale, J.F.W., Eichhubl, P., Fall, A., Laubach, S.E., 2013, Using structural diagenesis to infer the timing of natural fractures in the Marcellus Shale. This paper was prepared for presentation at the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference held in Denver, Colorado, USA, 12-14 August 2013. URTeC Control ID 1580135 | request reprint
  • Gale, J.F., and Laubach, S.E., 2009, Natural fractures in the New Albany Shale and their importance for shale-gas production: 2009 International Coalbed & Shale Gas Symposium.
  • Laubach, S. E., 1988, Fractures generated during folding of the Palmerton Sandstone, eastern Pennsylvania: Journal of Geology, 96, no. 4, 495–503.  |  view at publisher

NE Mexico  | Outcrop

  • Hooker, J.N., Laubach, S.E., and Marrett, R., 2018. Microfracture spacing distributions and the evolution of fracture patterns in sandstones. Journal of Structural Geology 108, 66-79. | view at publisher
  • Ortega, O.J., Gale, J.F.W., Marrett, R., 2010, Quantifying diagenetic and stratigraphic controls on fracture intensity in platform carbonates: An example from the Sierra Madre Oriental, northeast Mexico, Journal of Structural Geology, 32, (12), 1943-1959. doi:10.1016/j.jsg.2010.07.004.
  • Laubach, S. E. and Ward, M. W., 2006, Diagenesis in porosity evolution of opening-mode fractures, Middle Triassic to Lower Jurassic La Boca Formation, NE Mexico. Tectonophysics 419, 75-97. | request reprint  | view at publisher
  • Hooker, J.N., Larson, T., Eakin, A., Laubach, S.E., Eichhubl, P., Fall, A., Marrett, R., 2015, Fracturing and fluid-flow in a sub-décollement sandstone; or, a leak in the basement. Journal of The Geological Society, London. v. 172, p. 428-442. doi: 10.1144/jsg2014-128. (Published online May 2015) | view at publisher
  • Marrett, R., ed., 2001, Genesis and controls of reservoir-scale carbonate deformation, Monterrey salient, Mexico: The University of Texas at Austin, Bureau of Economic Geology, Guidebook 28.

Western Canada  | Outcrop

  • Ukar, E., Laubach, S.E., Hooker, J.N., 2019. Outcrops as guides to subsurface natural fractures: example from the Nikanassin Formation tight-gas sandstone, Grande Cache, Alberta Foothills, Canada. Marine & Petroleum Geology, 103, 255-275. | view
  • Ukar, E., Ozkul, C., Eichhubl, P., 2016. Fracture abundance and strain in folded Cardium Formation, Red Deer River anticline, Alberta Foothills, Canada. Marine & Petroleum Geology 76, 210-230. doi: 10.1016/jmarpetgeo.2016.05.016 | view at publisher
  • Gale, J. F. W., Laubach, S. E., Olson, J. E., Eichhubl, P., and Fall, A., 2014, Natural fractures in shale: a review and new observations. AAPG Bulletin, 98 (11), 2165-2216. doi: 10.1306/08121413151 (published November 2014) |  view at publisher | view at GSWview at Datapages

NW Scotland  | Outcrop

  • Laubach, S.E., Eichhubl, P. Hargrove, P., Ellis, M.A., Hooker, J.N., 2014, Fault core and damage zone fracture attributes vary along strike owing to interaction of fracture growth, quartz accumulation, and differing sandstone composition. Journal of Structural Geology, 68, Part A, 207-226. doi: 10.1016/j.jsg.2014.08.007 | view at publisher
  • Ellis, M.A., Laubach, S.E. Eichhubl, P., Olson, J.E. & Hargrove, P., 2012, Fracture development and diagenesis of Torridon Group Applecross Formation, near An Teallach, NW Scotland: millennia of brittle deformation resilience? Journal of the Geological Society, London. 169, no. 3, 297-310. doi: 10.1144/0016-76492011-086. | request reprint | view at GSW
  • Laubach, S.E. and Diaz-Tushman, K., 2009, Laurentian paleostress trajectories and ephemeral fracture permeability, Cambrian Eriboll Formation sandstones west of the Moine thrust zone, northwest Scotland. Journal of the Geological Society (London), 166, part 2, 349-362. | view at GSW

Argentina-Bolivia  | Outcrop

  • Ukar, E., Lopez, R.G., Gale, J.F.W., Laubach, S.E., Manceda, R., 2017. New type of kinematic indicator in bed-parallel veins, Late Jurassic–Early Cretaceous Vaca Muerta Formation, Argentina: E-W shortening during Late Cretaceous vein opening. Journal of Structural Geology 104, 31-47. doi:10.1016/j.jsg.2017.09.014 | view at publisher
  • Ukar, E., Lopez, R.G., Laubach, S.E., Gale, J.F.W., Manceda, R., and Marrett, R., 2017. Microfractures in bed-parallel veins (beef) as predictors of vertical macrofractures in shale: Vaca Muerta Formation, Agrio Fold-and-Thrust Belt, Argentina. South American Journal of Earth Sciences 79, 152-169. | view at publisher
  • Hooker, J.N., Laubach, S.E., and Marrett, R., 2013, Fracture-aperture size–frequency, spatial distribution, and growth processes in strata-bounded and non-strata-bounded fractures, Cambrian Mesón Group, NW Argentina. Journal of Structural Geology, 54, 54-71. | request reprint | view at publisher
  • Iñigo, J.F., Laubach, S.E., Hooker, J.N., 2012, Fracture abundance and patterns in the Subandean fold and thrust belt, Devonian Huamampampa Formation petroleum reservoirs and outcrops, Argentina and Bolivia. Marine & Petroleum Geology, 35, no. 1, 201-218. doi:10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2012.01.010 | request reprint | view at publisher
  • Marrett, R., Allmendinger, R., Alonso, R., Drake, R., 1994, Late Cenozoic tectonic evolution of the Puna Plateau and adjacent foreland, northwestern Argentine Andes. Journal of South American Earth Sciences 7 (2), 179-207.

Brazil | Outcrop

  • Miranda, T.S., Santos, R.F. Barbosa, J.A. Gomes, I.F. Alencar, M.L. Correia, O.J. Falcão, T.C. Gale, J.F.W., Neumann V.H., 2018. Quantifying aperture, spacing and fracture intensity in a carbonate reservoir analogue: Crato Formation, NE Brazil. Marine & Petroleum Geology 97, 556-567. | view at publisher

Outcrop and Core Analysis Methods

  • Marrett, R., Gale, J.F.W., Gomez, L., and Laubach, S.E., 2018. Correlation analysis of fracture arrangement in space. Journal of Structural Geology 108, 16-33. | view at publisher [spatial arrangement method and software]
  • Gomez, L. A., and Laubach, S. E, 2006, Rapid digital quantification of microfracture populations. Journal of Structural Geology, 28, 408-420. | view at publisher [Microfracture sampling and analysis methods]
  • Ortega, O. J., Marrett, R., and Laubach, S. E., 2006, A scale-independent approach to fracture intensity and average fracture spacing: AAPG Bulletin, 90, no. 2 (Feb. 2006), 193-208 . | AAPG Notable Paper | view at publisher [comparator and method for size analysis]
  • Laubach, S. E. and Ward, M. W., 2006, Diagenesis in porosity evolution of opening-mode fractures, Middle Triassic to Lower Jurassic La Boca Formation, NE Mexico. Tectonophysics 419, 75-97. | view at publisher  [outcrop selection criterion]
  • Lander R.H., and Laubach, S.E., 2015, Insights into rates of fracture growth and sealing from a model for quartz cementation in fractured sandstones. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 127, no. 3-4, 516-538. doi: 10.1130/B31092.1 (published online October 2014) | view at publisher [rigorous comparison of outcrop and core]

Selected Subsurface Studies

East Texas

  • Becker, S.P., Eichhubl, P. Laubach, S.E., Reed, R.M., Lander, R.H., and Bodnar, R.J., 2010, A 48 m.y. history of fracture opening, temperature, and fluid pressure: Cretaceous Travis Peak Formation, East Texas basin. Geological Society of America Bulletin, 122 (7/8), 1081-1093; doi 10.1130/B30067.1 | view at GSW
  • Hammes, U., and Gale, J.F.W., eds., 2014, Geology of the Haynesville Gas Shale in East Texas and West Lousiana: AAPG Memoir 105, American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Tulsa, OK, 236 p. ISBN 9780891813859. | view at Publisher

West Texas

  • Gale, J.F.W., Ukar, E., Laubach, S.E., 2018. Gaps in DFN models and how to fill them.  In: 2nd International Discrete Fracture Network Engineering Conference held in Seattle, Washington, USA, 20–22 June 2018, ARMA, American Rock Mechanics Association. DFNE 18-857 | view at publisher
  • Gasparrini, M., Sassi,  W., Gale, J.F.W., 2014, Natural sealed fractures in mudrocks: A case study tied to burial history from the Barnett Shale, Fort Worth Basin, Texas, USA. Marine & Petroleum Geology 55, 122-141. | view at publisher

US Rockies

  • Weisenberger, T., Eichhubl, P., Laubach, S.E., and Fall, A., 2019. Degradation of fracture porosity by carbonate cement, Piceance basin, Colorado, USA. Petroleum Geoscience. doi:10.1144/petgeo2018-162 | view
  • Li, J.Z., Laubach, S.E., Gale, J.F.W., and Marrett, R., 2018. Quantifying opening-mode fracture spatial organization in horizontal wellbore image logs, core and outcrop: application to Upper Cretaceous Frontier Formation tight gas sandstones, USA. Journal of Structural Geology 108, 137-156. | view at publisher
  • Laubach, S.E., Fall, A., Copley, L.K., Marrett, R., Wilkins, S., 2016. Fracture porosity creation and persistence in a basement-involved Laramide fold, Upper Cretaceous Frontier Formation, Green River Basin, U.S.A. Geological Magazine 153 (5/6), 887-910. doi:10.1017/S0016756816000157 | view at publisher
  • Fall, A., Eichhubl, P., Bodnar, R. J., Laubach, S. E., Davis, J. S., 2015. Natural hydraulic fracturing of tight-gas sandstone reservoirs, Piceance Basin, Colorado. Geological Society of America Bulletin 127 (1-2), 61-75. doi:10.1130/B31021.1 | view at publisher
  • Fall, A., Eichhubl, P., Cumella, S.P., Bodnar, R.J., Laubach, S.E., & Becker, S.P., 2012, Testing the basin-centered gas accumulation model using fluid inclusion observations: southern Piceance Basin, Colorado. AAPG Bulletin, 96/12, 2297-2318. doi:10.1306/05171211149  | view at GSW
  • Ozkan, A. Cumella, S. P., Milliken, K. L. and Laubach, S. E., 2011, Prediction of lithofacies and reservoir quality using well logs, Williams Fork Formation, Mamm Creek Field, Piceance Basin, AAPG Bulletin, 95/10, 1699-1723. | view at GSW


  • Ukar, E., Laubach, S.E., Hooker, J.N., 2019. Outcrops as guides to subsurface natural fractures: example from the Nikanassin Formation tight-gas sandstone, Grande Cache, Alberta Foothills, Canada. Marine & Petroleum Geology, 103, 255-275. | view
  • Olson, J.E., Laubach, S.E., and Eichhubl, P., 2010, Estimating natural fracture producibility in tight gas sandstones: coupling diagenesis with geomechanical modeling. The Leading Edge 29/12, 1494-1499. | view at publisher


  • Miranda, T., Barbosa, J.A., Gomes, I.F., Soares, A., Santos, R.F.V.C., Matos, G.C., McKinnon, E.A., Neuman, V., Marrett, R., 2016. Petrophysics and petrography of Aptian tight carbonate reservoir, Araripe Basin, Brazil, 78th EAGE Conference and Exhibition, doi: 10.3997/2214-4609.201600890 | view at publisher


  • Haddad, M., Du, J., Vidal-Gilbert, S., 2017. Integration of dynamic microseismic data with a true 3D modeling of hydraulic-fracture propagation in the Vaca Muerta Shale. SPE Journal 22/6, 1714-1738. | view at publisher
  • Iñigo, J.F., Laubach, S.E., Hooker, J.N., 2012, Fracture abundance and patterns in the Subandean fold and thrust belt, Devonian Huamampampa Formation petroleum reservoirs and outcrops, Argentina and Bolivia. Marine & Petroleum Geology, 35/1, 201-218. doi:10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2012.01.010 | view at publisher


  • Baques and others, in review. Structural and diagenetic characteristics and evens of Ordovician carbonate rocks, Tarim Basin, NW China.


Fault Rock Diagenesis and Fault Zone Attributes

Software and Methods | List of papers organized by topic

Information about the SEM CL Facility

Structural Diagenesis Initiative Main Page

Fracture Research and Application Consortium