Kamel Dadi*#, Riadh Ahmadi*, Anis Belhaj Mohamed**, Chaouki Khalfi*, Najwa Mbarki* and Jamel Abdennaceur Ouali*

* National Engineering School of Sfax (ENIS), Laboratory of Water, Energy and Environment (LR3E), Road Soukra 4 km, 3038 Sfax, Tunisia.

** National Oil Company Tunisia (ETAP) 54, Av. Med V, Tunis, Tunisia.

# Corresponding author,

The recent discovery of surface oil seeps in the Tamerza area in the west-central Gafsa Basin (southern Tunisia) has prompted a re-evaluation of the hydrocarbon potential of the region. In this paper, we report the results of analyses of seep oils by Rock-Eval pyrolysis (n = 6) and gas chromatography – mass spectrometry (n = 4). The goals of the study were to assess the composition of the seep oils, to investigate the relationship between the seep oils and potential source rocks, and to highlight the significance of the seep oils for oil exploration in the region.

In the Tamerza area, surface oil seeps have been recorded in numerous formations ranging between the Upper Cretaceous Abiod Limestone Formation and the lower Miocene Sehib Siltstone Formation. The results of this study showed that all the seep oil samples analysed in general had a similar geochemical fingerprint: for example, Pr/Ph values are lower than 1; a plot of Pr/n-C17 (0.27- 0.36) versus Ph/n-C18 (0.3-0.8) indicates a marine source rock deposited under reducing anoxic conditions; and Ts/(Ts+Tm) ratios indicate that the source rock was thermally mature. Correlation studies suggest that the oils originated from Cenomanian-Turonian shales corresponding to the informally-named Bahloul equivalent formation. Oil expulsion from this source rock at the seep locations is inferred to have ended by middle Miocene time. However the main phase of folding occurred here in the Pliocene – early Quaternary, and the resulting anticlinal folds are not therefore prospective structural traps for hydrocarbons because they developed after migration had already ceased. Stratigraphic traps and salt structures in the region may be of greater exploration interest.

A surface oil seep sample was also recovered from the Quaternary upper Segui Formation at Jebel Orbata in the east of the Gafsa Basin. Analysis of this oil sample showed that it has similar geochemical characteristics to the seep oils from the Tamerza area, but that it appears to have had a much more recent migration history. In the eastern Gafsa Basin, Pliocene – early Quaternary anticlinal structures could therefore constitute effective structural traps charged by the same Bahloul equivalent formation source rock.

Key words: Gafsa Basin, oil seeps, source rocks, Cretaceous, hydrocarbon potential, Bahloul Formation, oil-source correlation.

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