Inversion tectonics: a brief petroleum industry perspective

Tari, Gábor; Arbouille, Didier; Schléder, Zsolt; Tóth, Tamás

Inverted structures provide traps for petroleum exploration, typically four-way structural closures. As to the degree of inversion, based on a large number of worldwide examples seen in various basins, the most preferred petroleum exploration targets are mild to moderate inversion structures, defined by the location of the null points. In these instances, the closures have a relatively small vertical amplitude but are simple in a map-view sense and well imaged on seismic reflection data. Also, the closures typically cluster above the extensional depocenters which tend to contain source rocks providing petroleum charge during and after the inversion. Cases for strong or total inversion are generally not that common and typically are not considered as ideal exploration prospects, mostly due to breaching and seismic imaging challenges associated with the trap(s) formed early on in the process of inversion. Also, migration may become tortuous due to the structural complexity or the source rock units may be uplifted above the hydrocarbon generation window, effectively terminating the charge once the inversion has occurred.

Cases of inversion tectonics can be grouped into two main modes. A structure develops in Mode I inversion if the syn-rift succession in the preexisting extensional basin unit is thicker than its post-rift cover including the pre- and syn-inversion part of it. In contrast, a structure evolves in Mode II inversion if the opposite syn- versus post-rift sequence thickness ratio can be observed. These two modes have different impacts on the petroleum system elements in any given inversion structure.

Mode I inversion tends to develop in failed intracontinental rifts and proximal passive margins, and Mode II structures are associated with back-arc basins and distal parts of passive margins.

For any particular structure the evidence for inversion is typically provided by subsurface data sets such as reflection seismic and well data. However, in many cases the deeper segments of the structure are either poorly imaged by the seismic data and/or have not been penetrated by exploration wells. In these cases the interpretation in terms of inversion has to rely on the regional understanding of the basin evolution with evidence for an early phase of crustal extension by normal faulting.

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Tari, Gábor / Arbouille, Didier / Schléder, Zsolt / et al: Inversion tectonics: a brief petroleum industry perspective. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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