N005 Tectonic Controls on Basin Development and Petroleum Systems

Course Facts

Course Code:
5 days
4.0 Continuing Education Units
40 Professional Development Hours
Certificate Issued Upon Completion


This course examines the tectonic, stratigraphic and sedimentary controls on petroleum systems in sedimentary basins. The tectonic processes generating sedimentary basins, their structural development, the geometry of each basin type and the development of depositional systems within basins are described. Emphasis is placed on the processes that influence the variability of structural styles, their influence on sediment transport pathways and, hence, trap geometry and reservoir predictions.

Duration and Training Method

A five-day classroom course including lectures, exercises (seismic interpretation and basin analysis) and discussion: the split between lectures and exercises is ca. 50:50. The focus is on regional prospectivity and generalised play types in each basin type. A number of regional seismic lines are examined and discussed as case studies for each basin type.

Participants will learn to:

  1. Categorise the general tectonic, stratigraphic and sedimentary controls on petroleum systems in sedimentary basins in generic worldwide settings.
  2. Examine the plate tectonic settings, fault geometries, sediment entry and dispersal facies patterns associated with syn-rift basins formed in intra-cratonic basins, failed or active rift basins and passive margins.
  3. Categorise the various tectonic controls on trapping styles in petroleum systems formed in post-rift or passive margins settings (e.g. gravity tectonics; diapirism and drape).
  4. Analyse the development and evolution of convergent subduction-accretion and arc-related forearc and back-arc basins and the effects of the volcanic arc products for petroleum systems therein.
  5. Analyse the petroleum systems set up in compressional, fold-and-thrust belts and their associated foreland basin settings, subsidence and erosional history, sediment sources and stratigraphic sequences.
  6. Illustrate the effects of positive structural inversion in controlling structural styles, fault geometries and their petroleum systems.
  7. Verify structural geometries that characterise petroleum systems formed in strike-slip (wrench) settings.
  8. Evaluate any basin type using key regional seismic lines for source presence and prediction of plays using a consistent methodology developed through the week.

The plate tectonic processes generating sedimentary basins, the structural development and the geometry of each basin type are outlined and the development of depositional systems within each basin type are described. Emphasis will be placed on the processes that profoundly influence the temporal and spatial structural variability of structural styles, their influence on sediment transport pathways and hence, trap geometry and reservoir predictions. The resultant tectonic and stratigraphic evolution is illustrated by means of strategic basin case studies taken fromvarious prospective hydrocarbon provinces to emphasize the impact of this tectono-stratigraphic evolution on the development of petroleum systems. Attention is focused on integrating sedimentation with stratigraphical architecture and basin dynamics using modern and ancient examples in evolving and mature rift basins and passive margins, foreland basins, convergent margins, structurally inverted basins, salt-prone settings and strike-slip systems.

Exercises will incorporate regional seismic lines from a diverse range of sedimentary basins.


  • The ingredients of a successful petroleum system
  • Classification of sedimentary basins and subsidence mechanisms
  • Distribution of giant fields by basin setting
  • Use of seismic stratigraphic methods in structural analysis and petroleum systems

Rift Basins and Passive Margins

  • Plate tectonic setting
  • Basic features of rifts
  • Normal fault geometry
  • Fault segmentation, growth and linkage
  • Role of relay ramps and the concept of transfer zones
  • Rift basin drainage patterns
  • Sediment derivation, distribution and facies patterns
  • Tectono-sedimentary facies models for rift basins
  • Rift-drift transition and the development of passive margins
  • Post-rift thermal subsidence
  • Prediction of source presence and plays
  • A variety of exercises including the North Sea, South Atlantic (Brazil and Angola), Gulf of Suez, Australia, some involving salt.

Foreland Basins

  • Plate tectonic setting
  • General characteristics of foreland basins
  • Subsidence and erosional history
  • Sediment sources and sediment fill
  • Underfilled and overfilled basins
  • Stratigraphic sequences developed in foreland basins
  • Prediction of source presence and plays
  • A variety of exercises including Alaska, Italy and Indonesia

Subduction and Arc-Related Basins

  • Plate tectonic setting
  • General characteristics of arc-trench systems
  • Effects of oblique convergence on convergent margin basins
  • Accretionary prisms, fore arcs and back arc basins
  • Prospectivity
  • Exercises from Japan, USA and Vietnam 

Structural Inversion

  • Plate tectonic setting
  • What is structural inversion
  • Structural Styles and Fault Geometries
  • Timing of deformation and role of fault reactivation: Implications for prospectivity
  • The Wessex Basin Case History
  • Exercises from the UKCS

Basins Developed in Strike-Slip Settings

  • Plate tectonic setting
  • General characteristics of strike-slip systems
  • Classification of strike-slip faults and basins
  • Structural framework
  • Fault patterns and basin geometry
  • The importance of Plan view and Cross-sectional geometries
  • Extension, subsidence and thermal history
  • Transtensional and transpressional basins
  • Depositional framework of and characteristic fill of strike-slip basins
  • Distinguishing structural inversion from strike-slip
  • Exercises from Philippines, East Africa and Netherlands

Tectonic Styles in Salt Prone Settings

  • The important modifying effects of salt
  • Typical geometries
  • Feedback for Trapping Styles
  • Influence on Sedimentation Patterns – mini-basins
  • Significance for petroleum systems
  • Exercises include South Atlantic (Brazil and Angola), Southern North Sea and Netherlands

Who should attend

This course is primarily intended for early career geologists and geophysicists in their first six years of working in the oil industry. Technical support staff seeking to increase their geological and interpretation skills will also find the course useful. The course gives a broad overview of petroleum systems in different basin types and can be used as a primer or refresher for specific basin types for more experienced Geoscientists.

Prerequisites and linking courses

There are no prerequisites for this course, although an understanding of basic geological principles and seismic interpretation would be highly beneficial. 

Those wishing to expand upon topics covered in this course should consider N138 (Structural Interpretation in Petroleum Exploration and Development) or N090 (Seismic Structural Styles Workshop) as follow-up courses. A linking classroom course is N220 (Structural Geology and Seismic Interpretation for Petroleum Exploration and Production),

Suitable field courses to consider, having completed this course, are N116 (Structural Geology for Petroleum Exploration, SW England, UK),  N142 (Structure and Fault Systems in Hydrocarbon Exploration, Southern Pyrenees, Spain) and N407 (Predicting Reservoir and Petroleum Systems in Rift and extensional Basins (New Mexico and Colorado, USA).

Click on a name to learn more about the instructor

Mark Thompson

Related Subjects

Excellent coverage of topics. The course provided a solid overview of many key elements of use in exploration. Many colleagues would benefit from the topics covered and I will recommend the course to others in the technical department.