Petroleum systems in Southeast Asian Tertiary basins

Authors : Harry DoustPublication : Bulletin of the Geological Society of MalaysiaVolume : 64Page : 1-16Year : 2017


Bulletin of the Geological Society of Malaysia, Volume 64, December 2017, pp. 1 – 16

Petroleum systems in Southeast Asian Tertiary basins

Harry Doust

Department of Earth Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht,
The Netherlands & Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Email address:

Abstract: Productive Tertiary basins in Southeast Asia have essentially similar geodynamic developments, and share many hydrocarbon habitats and active petroleum systems. In order to facilitate understanding of the essential elements that contribute to the success of petroleum systems I have classified them into a number of groups or ‘associations’ according to their sedimentary facies. This facilitates use of them as valuable analogues. Five such facies associations, containing characteristic and distinct petroleum parameters have been recognised: (i) lacustrine (ii) paralic (iii) open marine shelf (iv) deeper marine and (v) pre-Tertiary. They belong to particular cycles or stages in basin development that provide the context within which the depositional environments and palaeogeography evolve.
Lacustrine facies typify the early stages of synrift development in basins closer or more proximal to the Sundaland province in northern and western SE Asia. Open marine facies, on the other hand, typify the early postrift period and basins in palaeogeographically more distal areas, such as eastern Indonesia and The Philippines. Paralic and bathyal facies characterise the later stages of the synrift and postrift cycles and are widespread throughout the proximal and intermediate parts of the area. Pre-Tertiary source facies, which provide charge in parts of eastern Indonesia and Thailand, are mainly terrestrial in nature.
These differences have important implications for petroleum occurrence, which can be summarised accordingly:
• More proximal basins are dominated by lacustrine to paralic facies in the synrift cycle and have a mainly non-marine sedimentary fill. Petroleum systems with oil charge are dominant.
• More distal basins are dominated by rapid postrift subsidence. In the open marine facies carbonate reservoirs are well-developed, while petroleum systems are mainly gas-prone.
• Around Borneo thick late postrift passive margin delta sequences with oil- and gas-prone coaly source rocks and clastic reservoirs are developed in delta-top environments. Transported terrigenous organic material is commonly found in related deep marine environments and contributes to a marine source facies. Both give rise to prolific petroleum systems.
• Many basins in the Sunda Shelf area lie in an intermediate situation, where a non-marine synrift is followed by a marine postrift cycle. Such basins benefit from lacustrine and paralic source rock and reservoir sequences in both the syn- and the postrift, and are often characterised by multiple petroleum systems.
Evaluation of petroleum potential in Southeast Asian Tertiary basins requires a special approach: in most parts of the World, such as the Middle East and Northwest Europe, source rocks are of marine origin, are relatively consistent in type and quality and are located in well-defined formations of regional extent. In SE Asia the terrestrial and lacustrine source rocks are more difficult to locate, are variable in quality and are often distributed in thin beds throughout thick sequences. These differences mean that predictive extrapolations of charge quality and maturity, and therefore of basin prospectivity, are much more difficult in Southeast Asia: This probably explains why discoveries continue to be made after almost 130 years of exploration!
Keywords: Southeast Asia, Tertiary basins, petroleum systems, basin cycles, lithofacies associations