G. Ambrose*

*Northern Territory Geological Survey, Dept. of Mines and Energy, GPO Box 2901, Darwin, NT, Australia.


The Jurassic – Lower Cretaceous Sarir Sandstone (formerly known as the Nubian Sandstone) in the SE Sirt Basin is composed of four members which can be correlated regionally using a lithostratigraphic framework. These synrift sandstones unconformably overlie a little known pre-rift succession, and are in turn unconformably overlain by post-rift marine shales of Late Cretaceous age.

Within the Sarir Sandstone are two sandstone-dominated members, each reflecting a rapid drop in base level, which are important oil reservoirs in the study area. Between these sandstones are thick shales of continental origin which define the architecture of the reservoir units. This four-fold lithostratigraphic subdivision of the Sarir Sandstone contrasts with previous schemes which generally only recognised three members.

The sandstones below the top-Sarir unconformity host in excess of 20 billion barrels of oil in-place. The dominant traps are structural (e.g. Sarir C field), stratigraphic (e.g. Messla field), hanging-wall fault plays (e.g. UU1-65 field) and horst-block plays (e.g. Calanscio field). Three Sarir petroleum systems are recognised in the SE Sirt Basin. The most significant relies on post-rift (Upper Cretaceous) shales, which act as both source and seal. The Variegated Shale Member of the Sarir Sandstone may also provide source and seal; while a third, conceptual petroleum system requires generation of non-marine oils from pre-rift (?Triassic) source rocks in the axis of the Sarir Trough.

The intrabasinal Messla High forms a relatively rigid block at the intersection of two rift trends, around which stress vectors were deflected during deposition of the syn-rift Sarir Sandstone. Adjacent troughs accommodated thick, post-rift shale successions which comprise excellent source rocks. Palaeogene subsidence facilitated oil generation, and the Messla High was a focus for oil migration. Wrenching on master faults with associated shale smear has facilitated fault seal and the retention of hydrocarbons. In the Calanscio area, transpressional faulting has resulted in structural inversion with oil entrapment in "pop-up" horst blocks. Elsewhere, transtensional faulting has resulted in numerous fault-dependent traps which, in combination with stratigraphic and truncation plays, will provide the focus for future exploration.

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