K. H. James*

*Consultant Geologist; 16 Maeshenllan, Llandre, Near Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY 24 5DD, Wales, UK.


Venezuela’s most important hydrocarbon reserves occur in the intermontane Maracaibo Basin and in the Eastern Venezuela foreland basin. Seeps are abundant in these areas. Lesser volumes occur in the Barinas-Apure foreland basin. Most of the oil in these basins was derived from the Upper Cretaceous La Luna Formation in the west and its equivalent, the Querecual Formation, in the east. Minor volumes of oil derived from Tertiary source rocks occur in the Maracaibo and Eastern Venezuela Basins and in the Falcón area.

Offshore, several TCF of methane with some associated condensate are present in the Carúpano Basin, and gas is also present in the Columbus Basin. Oil reserves are present in La Vela Bay and in the Gulf of Paria, and oil has been encountered in the Cariaco Basin. The Gulf of Venezuela remains undrilled. The basins between the Netherlands and Venezuelan Antillian Islands seem to lack reservoirs.

Tertiary sandstones provide the most important reservoirs, but production comes also from fractured basement (igneous and metamorphic rocks), from basal Cretaceous sandstones and from fractured Cretaceous limestones. Seals are provided by encasing shales, unconformities, faults and tar plugs. There is a wide variety of structural and stratigraphic traps. The Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt of the Eastern Venezuela Basin, one of the world’s largest accumulations (1.2 x 1012 brl) involves stratigraphic trapping provided by onlap and by tar plugging. Stratigraphic trapping involving unconformities and tar plugging also plays a major role also in the Bolivar Coastal complex of fields along the NE margin of Lake Maracaibo. Many of the traps elsewhere in the Maracaibo Basin were influenced by faulting. The faults played an extensional role during Jurassic rifting and subsequently suffered inversion and strike-slip reactivation. This created anticlines as well as fracture porosity and permeability, and influenced the distribution of sandstone reservoirs, unconformities and related truncation traps. The faults probably also provided migration paths as well as lateral seals. This is very likely the case also in the large, thrust-related traps of the Furrial Trend in Eastern Venezuela. Normal faults, many antithetic to basement dip, provide important traps in the Las Mercedes, Oficina and Temblador complexes on the southern flanks of the Eastern Venezuela Basin. Similar faults seem to control the Sinco-Silvestre complex of the Barinas-Apure Basin.

Much of Venezuela’s crude (around 1.5 trillion brls original STOIIP) has been degraded and is heavy. Perhaps two to three trillion brls of precursor, lighter oil existed. While the known Upper Cretaceous La Luna and Querecual Formations are known to include prolific source rocks, a reasonable generation/accumulation efficiency of 10% implies volumes too large to have come from the reported kitchens. The country’s vast reserves are perhaps better explained by recognizing that the present-day basins are remnants of much broader sedimentary areas. The source rocks originally had a much more regional distribution. They suffered widespread, earlier phases of generation that probably charged early-formed traps on a regional scale. These, together with more recent kitchens, provided oil to the present-day accumulations. This history involved long-distance migration and remigration.

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