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In international exploration, the new normal is starting to look like the old normal. And 2014 looked a lot like the year before.


The relatively recent, very large discoveries offshore Brazil have put pre-salt exploration in the South Atlantic back in the foreground. Pre-salt exploration history, however, is far more ancient and marked with some major successes – but also many failures. Here’s a brief overview of this exploration in West Africa until the M’Boundi discovery, which will be described in detail as it brings some lessons that readers can discover for themselves.

Explorer Article

Despite a few lean times – including a stretch when it was derided as the Dead Sea – the GOM always comes roaring back to life to reclaim its position as the shining star of domestic hydrocarbon production.


There is intense interest by the industry in the Keathley Canyon and Garden Banks region of the Gulf of Mexico following major discoveries there, like BP’s Gila discovery announced late last year, and the multibillion-barrel Tiber oil field. Consequently, rival geoscience companies will offer competing surveys of the area.

DL Abstract

Hydrocarbon exploration beneath the shallow allochthonous salt canopy of the ultra-deepwater central Gulf of Mexico has encountered three thick, sand-rich, submarine fan successions that punctuate an otherwise relatively condensed and fine-grained basin center stratigraphy. These sand-rich fans are Late Paleocene, Early Miocene, and Middle Miocene in age and each coincide with periods of very high sediment flux and basin margin instability. They are the primary exploration targets in most ultra-deepwater fields, recent discoveries, and failed exploration tests.

Explorer Article

Shale may be the reservoir du jour, but a wide range of conventional reservoirs still hold promise in diverse regions throughout the world.


The Tarim Basin is one of the most important hydrocabon-bearing evaporite basins in China. Four salt-bearing sequences, the Middle and Lower Cambrian, the Mississippian, the Paleogene, and the Neogene, have various thickness and areal distribution. They are important detachment layers and intensely affect the structural deformation in the basin. The Kuqa depression is a subordinate structural unit with abundant salt structures in the Tarim Basin. Salt overthrusts, salt pillows, salt anticlines, salt diapirs, and salt-withdrawal basins are predominant in the depression. Contraction that resulted from orogeny played a key function on the formation of salt structures. Growth strata reveal that intense salt structural deformation in the Kuqa depression occurred during the Himalayan movement from Oligocene to Holocene, with early structural deformation in the north and late deformation in the south. Growth sequences also record at least two phases of salt tectonism. In the Yingmaili, Tahe, and Tazhong areas, low-amplitude salt pillows are the most common salt structures, and these structures are commonly accompanied by thrust faults. The faulting and uplifting of basement blocks controlled the location of salt structures. The differences in the geometries of salt structures in different regions show that the thickness of the salt sequences has an important influence on the development of salt-cored detachment folds and related thrust faults in the Tarim Basin.

Salt sequences and salt structures in the Tarim Basin are closely linked to hydrocarbon accumulations. Oil and gas fields have been discovered in the subsalt, intrasalt, and suprasalt strata. Salt deformation has created numerous potential traps, and salt sequences have provided a good seal for the preservation of hydrocarbon accumulations. Large- and small-scale faults related with salt structures have also given favorable migration pathways for oil and gas. When interpreting seismic profiles, special attention needs to be paid to the clastic and carbonate interbeds within the salt sequences because they may lead to incorrect structural interpretation. In the Tarim Basin, the subsalt anticlinal traps are good targets for hydrocarbon exploration.

The Gulf of Mexico (GOM) is the 9th largest body of water on earth, covering an area of approximately 1.6 million km2 with water depths reaching 4,400 m (14,300’). The basin formed as a result of crustal extension during the early Mesozoic breakup of Pangaea. Rifting occurred from the Late Triassic to early Middle Jurassic. Continued extension through the Middle Jurassic combined with counter-clockwise rotation of crustal blocks away from North America produced highly extended continental crust in the subsiding basin center. Subsidence eventually allowed oceanic water to enter from the west leading to thick, widespread, evaporite deposition. Seafloor spreading initiated in the Late Jurassic eventually splitting the evaporite deposits into northern (USA) and southern (Mexican) basins. Recent work suggests that this may have been accomplished by asymmetric extension, crustal delamination, and exposure of the lower crust or upper mantle rather than true sea floor spreading (or it could be some combination of the two).

Seismic correlations and well data confirm that deep-water carbonate beds of Mesozoic age have been found above the shallow allochthonous salt canopy in the northern Gulf of Mexico. These rafts of carbonate strata often overlie equivalent age Mesozoic carbonates in their correct stratigraphic position below the salt canopy.

The origin of keel structures is presently not well understood. As deformation occurs after shallow canopy emplacement, the keels are fairly recent developments geologically. Volumetrically few but intriguing observations suggest possible basement involvement in keel formation.

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