Oil and Gas

Oil and Gas | Structure and Tectonics

Extensional Tectonics and Normal Faulting (Nevada and California, USA)

Course Code: N114
Instructors:  David FerrillKevin Smart
Course Outline:  Download
Format and Duration
6 days


This advanced structural geology course provides geoscientists with hands-on experience analyzing complex structures at the reservoir scale. The course focuses on extensional fault systems but also visits sites with contractional structures associated with strike-slip fault zones. The course begins in Reno; traverses Owens Valley, Panamint Valley, and Death Valley; and ends in Las Vegas.


The overall instruction and training materials were excellent.

Duration and Training Method

A six-day field seminar. The course is conducted principally in the field through observation and collection of data for exercises. A half day is spent in the classroom on the first morning in Bishop, California. On one evening, participants have the option to show posters or give brief presentations of their current work on extensional fault systems. The proportion of field time to classroom time is approximately 90:10.

Course Overview

Participants will learn to:

  1. Appraise complex extensional structures analogous to those that control hydrocarbon migration and trapping in petroleum provinces around the world.
  2. Evaluate subtleties of structural style.
  3. Judge the strengths and weakness of interpretations of extensional fault systems.
  4. Propose alternative interpretations based on the range of fault patterns observed.
  5. Assess deformation mechanisms that operate in fault zones.
  6. Evaluate and integrate structural uncertainty in risk assessment.
  7. Characterize the regional tectonic setting, stratigraphy and development of the western Basin and Range, USA.
  8. Judge how fault system geometry, timing and topology affect hydrocarbon migration and trapping.
  9. Judge the complexity of fault scaling relationships (i.e. the interplay of fault displacement, length and timing).
  10. Assess field examples of many of the extensional fault system features they will encounter during interpretation of seismic and well data.

Exposures visited focus on extensional fault systems, extensional fault-bend folding, fault zone deformation mechanisms, fault scaling relationships and fault topology. The course also includes a broad overview of the structure of the western Basin and Range to provide regional context for the field localities.

Day 0:

  • Fly into Reno, Nevada.

Day 1:

  • Introductury lectures on the tectonic settings of the Western Basin and Range and extensional faulting concepts
  • Depart for Bishop, California. Field stops to discuss structural style and regional tectonic setting
  • Spend night in Bishop

Day 2:

  • Morning lectures and exercises in meeting room at the White Mountain Research Center
  • Basics of fault systems and fault topology
    - Series of exercises interpreting faults on structure contour maps of the Volcanic Tableland of increasing data resolution
    - Exercises interpreting fault gaps on high resolution structure contour map of single segmented fault
    Fault gap correlation exercise
  • Drive to east flank of Sierra Nevada for overview of Volcanic Tableland
    - Discussion of regional tectonic setting of Volcanic Tableland
    - Discussion of stress and fault system development
    - Discussion of rollover geometry and growth faulting
  • Volcanic Tableland field stops and exercises
  • Evening poster session at the White Mountain Research Center: participants are encouraged (but not required) to bring a summary poster or brief presentation of a current project relevant to extensional tectonics to share with the group. This evening discussion may influence the focus of the balance of the trip.
  • Spend night in Bishop

Day 3:

  • Volcanic Tableland field stops and exercises
  • Flipping faults
  • En echelon fault array and relay ramps
  • Southern Fish Slough fault system
    - Overview stop
    - Northern breached relay ramp - discussion of migration and trapping
    - Central breached relay ramp - investigation and discussion of internal deformation
  • En echelon grabens in footwall of Fish Slough fault system
  • Owens River cutbank crossing faults cross-section exposure
    - Cut and restore photograph of faults
    - Construct distance/displacement diagram
    - Discuss influence of small faults on reservoir permeability
  • Spend night in Bishop


Day 4:

  • Drive from Bishop to Death Valley, stopping along the way to discuss Owens Valley, Eureka Valley, Saline Range, Saline Valley and Panamint Valley structural/ neotectonic setting
  • Group 1 - Hike through Mt. Tucki detachment fault at Mosaic Canyon
  • Group 2 - Hike through Death Valley normal fault on Natural Bridge trail.
  • Spend night at The Oasis at Death Valley

Day 5:

  • Group 1 - Hike through Death Valley normal fault on Natural Bridge trail
  • Group 2 - Hike through Mt. Tucki detachment fault at Mosaic Canyon
  • Kelley’s Well Limestone Hogback, southeastern Funeral Mountains
    - Examination and discussion of contractional folds formed above very weak detachments during regional Basin and Range extension
    - Exercise to analyze and compare three different styles of contractional folding
  • Steve’s Pass – discussion of Crater Flat half graben and Yucca Mountain (proposed site of high-level radioactive waste repository)
  • Bare Mountain – discussion of fault geometry and fault-block deformation processes in an extensional imbricate fault system
  • Visit historic Rhyolite townsite (optional)
  • Drive through basin-bounding fault on Titus Canyon Road (if time, weather and road conditions permit)
  • Spend night at The Oasis at Death Valley

Day 6:

  • Check out of The Oasis at Death Valley
  • Drive to Dante’s View
    - Overview of Death Valley regional tectonic setting
    - Discussion of regional pull-apart basins
  • Drive to Badwater playa at range front between aggrading alluvial fans downthrown to Death Valley fault
  • Copper Canyon and Mormon Point turtlebacks
  • Lunch at “coal seam” near Shoshone, California
  • Conclusion and drive to Las Vegas
  • Depart from Las Vegas after 7:30 p.m. or overnight for departure the next morning

The course is aimed primarily at experienced exploration and production geologists and geophysicists who are interested in improving their understanding of extensional structural elements.

David Ferrill

Dr. Ferrill is a structural geologist with international research experience in contractional, extensional, and strike-slip tectonic regimes, and oil and gas exploration and production experience. He has conducted research on geometric and kinematic analysis of folding and faulting processes, curvature of mountain belts, regional tectonics, hydrocarbon trap integrity, reservoir characterization, aquifer characterization, and interpretation of tectonic stress fields and rock deformation mechanisms with emphasis on mechanical stratigraphy and fault and fracture characterization. Study areas have included the Appalachians; the Basin and Range Province and Colorado Plateau of the western United States; the Permian Basin; the Gulf of Mexico Basin; offshore Newfoundland; the Northern Range of Trinidad;  the French Alps; offshore Vietnam; offshore Turkey; the Arabian Gulf; and the Zagros Belt.

As an Institute Scientist, Dr. Ferrill develops and executes projects with emphasis on oil and gas exploration and production. Dr.  Ferrill performs contract consulting and structural geology and geomechanics training for the oil industry. He is a licensed professional geoscientist (geology) in the state of Texas.  Previously at Shell Offshore Inc., Dr. Ferrill executed regional to prospect scale structural and stratigraphic analyses that led 3D seismic acquisition, multiple offshore lease purchases, and two commercial hydrocarbon discoveries in traps controlled by complex extensional and salt-related structures.

Affiliations and Accreditation
PhD University of Alabama
MSc West Virginia University
BSc Georgia State University

Courses Taught
N114: Extensional Tectonics and Normal Faulting (Nevada & California, USA)
N134: Carbonate and Shale Faulting and Fracturing Field Seminar (Texas, USA)
N180: Fault Mapping: Class and Field Seminar (Texas, USA)
N207: Fault Mapping: Class and Field Seminar (Haute Savoie, France)
N381: Influence of Tectonics and Mechanical Stratigraphy on Natural Deformation in the Permian Basin (Texas, USA)

Kevin Smart

Dr. Smart is a structural geologist with cross training in computational solid mechanics. His expertise is in the areas of structural geology and tectonophysics, nonlinear finite element analysis, field mapping, strain and microstructural analyses, and geologic fracture analysis. Dr. Smart’s research has ranged from outcrop and microscale analyses of carbonate and clastic rocks of the Appalachian, Ouachita, and Alpine contractional orogenic and the Basin and Range and Balcones Fault Zone extensional systems to field and laboratory studies of igneous and metamorphic rocks in the Wichita Mountains, Colorado Front Range, and southeastern Alaska.

Geomechanics efforts have included diverse applications in reservoir characterization (e.g., natural fracture prediction and production-related deformation, borehole stability, induced hydraulic fracturing), analyzing thermal effects on stress state evolution, and finite element analyses of ground response to seismic events. He has also conducted NASA-sponsored research to better understand the development of pit crater chains, landslides, and wrinkle ridges on Mars.

Dr. Smart is currently part of an integrated team that performs structural geology and geomechanics technical assistance and research projects for the oil and gas industry. His work in this area includes using geomechanical models to predict fracture distributions in conventional and unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs as well as analyze the effect of complex stress fields on subsurface deformation for problems ranging from large-scale folding and faulting down to borehole stability.

Affiliations and Accreditation
PhD University of  Tennessee, Knoxville - Geology
MS University of New Orleans - Geology
BS Allegheny College - Geology, Honors

Courses Taught
N114:  Extensional Tectonics and Normal Faulting (Nevada and California, USA)
N266:  Stress and Geomechanical Analyses (Texas, USA)
N381:  Influence of Tectonics and Mechanical Stratigraphy on Natural Deformation in the Permian Basin (Texas, USA)
N411:  Fractures, Stress and Geomechanics

CEU: 4.8 Continuing Education Units
PDH: 48 Professional Development Hours
Certificate: Certificate Issued Upon Completion
RPS is accredited by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) and is authorized to issue the IACET CEU. We comply with the ANSI/IACET Standard, which is recognised internationally as a standard of excellence in instructional practices.
We issue a Certificate of Attendance which verifies the number of training hours attended. Our courses are generally accepted by most professional licensing boards/associations towards continuing education credits. Please check with your licensing board to determine if the courses and certificate of attendance meet their specific criteria.