Late-stage calcites in the Permian Capitan Formation and its equivalents, Delaware Basin margin, west Texas and New Mexico: evidence for replacement of precursor evaporites



Comparison of Upper Guadalupian fore-reef, reef and back-reef strata from outcrops in the Guadalupe Mountains with equivalent subsurface cores from the northern and eastern margins of the Delaware Basin indicates that extensive evaporite diagenesis has occurred in both areas. In both surface and subsurface sections, the original sediments were extensively dolomitized and most primary and secondary porosity was filled with anhydrite. These evaporites were emplaced by reflux of evaporitic fluids from shelf settings through solution-enlarged fractures and karstic sink holes into the underlying strata. Outcrop areas today, however, contain no preserved evaporites in reef and fore-reef sections and only partial remnants of evaporites are retained in back-reef settings. In their place, these rocks contain minor silica, very large volumes of coarse sparry calcite and some secondary porosity. The replacement minerals locally form pseudomorphs of their evaporite precursors and, less commonly, contain solid anhydrite inclusions.

Some silicification, dissolution of anhydrite and conversion of anhydrite to gypsum have occurred in these strata where they are still buried at depths in excess of 1 km; however, no calcite replacements were noted from any subsurface core samples. Subsurface alteration has also led to the widespread, late-stage development of large- and small-scale dissolution breccias.

The restriction of calcite cements to very near-surface sections, petrographic evidence that the calcites post-date hydrocarbon emplacement, and the highly variable but generally ‘light’carbon and oxygen isotopic signatures of the spars all indicate that calcite precipitation is a very late diagenetic (telogenetic) phenomenon. Evaporite dissolution and calcitization reactions have only taken place where Permian strata were flushed with meteoric fluids as a consequence of Tertiary uplift, tilting and breaching of regional hydrological seals. A typical sequence of alteration involves initial corrosion of anhydrite, one or more stages of hydration/dehydration during conversion to gypsum, dissolution of gypsum and precipitation of sparry calcite. Such evaporite dissolution and replacement processes are probably continuing today in near-outcrop as well as deeper settings.

This study emphasizes the potential importance of telogenetic processes in evaporite diagenesis and in the precipitation of carbonate cements. The extensive mineralogical and petrophysical transformations which these strata have undergone during their uplift indicates that considerable caution must be exercised in using surface exposures to interpret subsurface reservoir parameters in evaporitic carbonate rocks.