West Virginia Geology:
Earth Science Studies

Dividing Line

Beneath the New River Gorge

The drawing shown below illustrates the relation of the New River Gorge to the bedrock underlying it.

Except at the observation area, the vertical lines in the drawing represent borings drilled to test for accumulations of oil and natural gas (for example, "Fayette 63," the well permit number). The lines along the top are profiles of the Earth's surface. The vertical scale of the drawing is ten times that of the horizontal scale which makes the valley walls appear to be dramatically steeper and deeper than they really are.

Data to construct this drawing were obtained from oil and gas well records (drillers' logs) on file at the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, and measurements made by personnel of the U.S. Geological Survey and the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey of rocks exposed (measured sections) in the gorge.

Fence diagram, New River Gorge, West Virginia

(Drawing modified from an illustration by the author and Dan Barker)

The rock formations shown on the drawing are Early and Middle Pennsylvanian and Late Mississippian in age (between 300 and 330 million years old). The Kanawha, New River, and Pocahontas Formations are Pennsylvanian in age. The Mauch Chunk and Greenbrier Groups are Mississippian in age. (In geological usage, a formation is an assemblage of rocks having characteristics which identify it throughout its area of occurrence. A group consists of two or more formations.)

The youngest formation, at the top, is the Kanawha Formation. It is made up of gray to dark-gray shale with sandstone, fire clay, and coal. The No. 2 Gas coal and the Eagle coal, present in the lower part of the Kanawha Formation, have been mined in the western part of the area depicted in the drawing.

The New River Formation contains sandstone with gray and dark-gray shale and coal. The Sewell coal, present in the middle part of the New River Formation, has been extensively mined in the area of Fayetteville.

The Pocahontas Formation contains sandstone, shale, and some coal. In the area of the drawing, unconformities (erosion surfaces) are present at the top and bottom of the Pocahontas Formation. Because of these erosion surfaces, only a small part of the Pocahontas is present here. Important coal deposits occur in the Pocahontas Formation south and east of Fayetteville.

The Mauch Chunk Group contains red, gray, and dark-gray shale, gray and red sandstone, and gray to dark-gray limestone. Oil and natural gas are produced from some of the sandstones (Ravencliff and Maxon) in this group. (It is because of wells drilled to find this oil and gas that this illustration can be presented.)

The Greenbrier Group is made up of limestone with some gray to dark-gray and red shale. In some places, a sandstone is present near the base of this group. Oil and natural gas are produced from the Greenbrier Group (the "Big Lime," as it is termed by drillers).

(article by Joseph F. Schwietering; reviewed March 1997)

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