A Full Plate

Date: 12/28/2012

Discovering oil through the study of Earth’s moving plates

That some of the successful plays now being considered off the west coast of Africa are strikingly similar to those off the east coast of Brazil is not mere coincidence. Accordingly, work has been done by geoscientists to amass and integrate exploration, drilling, and geological data and to apply plate tectonic models to extrapolate plays across oceans.

Discovering similar reservoir systems across the Atlantic

Plate tectonic science has established that Earth’s lithosphere comprises a number of plates that move relative to each other and are driven by the flow of the mantle beneath it. Over millions of years, this motion causes continents to come apart and converge again. The South America and Africa plates began to separate about 130 million years ago, resulting in the existence of very similar petroleum systems separated by the Atlantic Ocean.

Applying plate tectonic science in exploration

The Santos, Campos, and Espirito Basins off the coast of Brazil contain prolific oil discoveries and, through the application of plate tectonics, explorers have been able to extend that play to offshore western Africa. Similarly, success at the Jubilee field offshore Ghana led one E&P company to use plate tectonics science and regional geology to discover a prolific play offshore French Guiana, South America.

An article in the Autumn 2012 issue of Oilfield Review describes some of the fundamental concepts used by geoscientists to discover major oil and gas fields in continental margin systems. Case studies demonstrate how explorers have used plate tectonic and regional geology to expand exploration efforts in both directions across the Atlantic Ocean.

Read the full article at the Oilfield Review Web site.


Bryant I, Herbst N, Dailly P, Dribus JR, Fainstein R, Harvey N, McCoss A, Montaron B, Quirk D and Tapponier P : “Basin to Basin: Plate Tectonics in Exploration,” Oilfield Review 24, no. 3 (Autumn 2012): 38–57.

A Full Plate

Model-based interpretation from basin to prospect