The Oriskany Sandstone is a prominent ridge-forming sandstone in eastern West Virginia and an important producer of natural gas across the state. Deposited early in the Devonian Period, 400 million to 345 million years ago, it forms a consistent blanket, 100 to 150 feet thick, throughout the region and thins only to the west.
The Oriskany is buried at the Allegheny Front and is not exposed in the western portions of West Virginia. It is a quartz-rich sandstone known as an arenite. Not as durable as the Tuscarora Sandstone, which forms Seneca Rocks, the Oriskany forms many smaller, subsidiary ridges in the Eastern Panhandle. Close observation of the Oriskany reveals layers of crossbedding, as well as thin interbedded layers of limestone. Its most recognizable feature may be thin layers containing fossil molds.
The sand grains of the Oriskany are often held only loosely together. This makes the Oriskany useful as a source of silica for glass making as well as a natural gas reservoir. It is mined for glass sand at Berkeley Springs and is a target for gas exploration in many parts of the state. Some of the largest gas fields in West Virginia, including Elk-Poca in Jackson County and South Burns Chapel in Monongalia and Preston counties, produce from this sandstone or related deposits. The most prominent natural landmark composed of Oriskany Sandstone is the Smoke Hole canyon of Grant and Pendleton counties. The Oriskany also holds up many of the subsidiary ridges in the region. In the Eastern Panhandle it forms many small gumdrop-shaped mountains.
This Article was written by David Matchen
Last Revised on October 22, 2010
Harper, J. A. & D. G. Patchen. "Play Dos: Lower Devonian Oriskany Sandstone Structural Play," in J. B. Roen & B. J. Walker, eds, Atlas of Major Appalachian Gas Plays. Morgantown: West Virginia Geological & Economic Survey, 1996.
Bruner, Katherine R. "Depositional Environments, Petrology, and Diagenesis of the Oriskany Sandstone in the Subsurface in West Virginia." Ph.D. diss, West Virginia University, 1991.