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Controls on Natural Fracture Variability in the Southern Raton Basin of Colorado and New Mexico

Cooper, Scott P.1, William A. Olsson1, John C. Lorenz1, Paul M. Basinski2, Rich Larson3, James M. Herrin1, Russell G. Keefe1
1 Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, NM
2 El Paso Production Company, Houston, TX
3 Vermejo Park Ranch, Raton, NM

Natural fractures in Jurassic through Tertiary rock units of the Raton Basin locally contain conjugate shear fractures that are mechanically compatible with associated extension fractures, i.e., they have a bisector to the acute angle that is parallel to the strike of associated extension fractures, normal to the thrust front at the western margin of the basin. Both sets of fractures are therefore interpreted to have formed during Laramide-age thrusting from west to east that formed the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and subsequently the foreland Raton Basin, and that imposed strong east-west compressive stresses onto the strata filling the basin. This pattern is not universal, however. Anomalous NNE-SSW striking fractures locally dominate strata close to the thrust front, and fracture patterns are irregular in strata associated with anticlinal structures within the basin.

Of special interest are strike-slip style conjugate shear fractures within Dakota Sandstone outcrops 60 miles to the east of the thrust front. Mohr-Coulomb failure diagrams are utilized to describe how these formed as well as how two distinctly different types of fractures can be formed in the same basin under the same regional tectonic setting and at the same time. The primary controls in this interpretation are simply the mechanical properties of the specific rock units and the depth of burial rather than significant changes in the applied stress.