Special Report 013

Special Report 013

SPE 013

A Comprehensive Field Guide for Facies Characterization of the Athabasca Oil Sands, Northeast Alberta

The present study was initiated May 1, 1997, and was designed to do regional facies work on the Athabasca oil sands deposit of northeast Alberta, focusing on outcrops as well as selected subsurface core studies of the McMurray Formation. The aim of this project was to characterize the oil sands of the Athabasca deposit at a facies scale-of-resolution that would be used as a basis for ongoing regional assessment of the oil sands deposit. This study was very successful in combining detailed outcrop and subsurface results that lead to the development of three facies models for the McMurray succession, and represents an important step forward in our understanding of the Athabasca oil sands deposit.

This report is intended to be a comprehensive catalogue of selected major outcrops that were measured during regional facies work on the McMurray Formation, and serves as a compilation of the fieldwork over four seasons (1997-2000) in the Athabasca River drainage area. Emphasis of the present study was on the geologic setting, sedimentology and facies analyses of the oil sands deposits, and included detailed work on 78 outcrop sections, about 150 cores, and over 6000 regional geophysical well-log picks. All of the outcrop sections occur along the Athabasca-Clearwater river drainage networks. In conjunction with this regional facies work, detailed palynological and biostratigraphic analyses were completed, mainly in the Steepbank River area and along the southern margin of the Bitumount Basin (Solby, 1998, 2000, 2001). Other in-depth work included outcrop-geophysical log correlation and synthetic seismic modeling of outcrops in the Steepbank River, with comparisons with subsurface seismic results in the Clarke Creek area (Hein et al., 2001; Langenberg et al., 1999, 2001).

The present special report compliments two earth science reports. The first earth science report contains an overview of the exploration and historical development of the Fort McMurray area, with emphasis on development of the oil sands industry in Alberta (Hein, 2000a). The second earth science report, an atlas of lithofacies of the McMurray Formation, includes a comprehensive facies classification that incorporates both outcrop and subsurface examples (Hein et al., 2000). We hope that these publications will aid other workers dealing with the complex issues concerning development of the vast Athabasca oil sands deposits, and will serve as valuable sources of information for government, industry and general public stakeholders.

Hein, F.J., Langenberg, C.W., Kidston, C., Berhane, H. and Berezniuk, T. (2001): A comprehensive field guide for facies characterization of the Athabasca Oil Sands, northeast Alberta; Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, EUB/AGS Special Report 13, 422 p.