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Island Arcs, Misplaced Continents, and a Large Igneous Province: Challenges for Petroleum Prospecting in the Western Caribbean

Abstract

Island arcs, displaced continents, and a large igneous province: Challenges for petroleum prospecting in the Western Caribbean The western Caribbean is an area of over 700,000 square kilometers that comprises the on- and offshore areas of Honduras, Nicaragua, Jamaica, and offshore Colombia. This study utilizes a database of over 30,000 km of 2D seismic data from both industry and academia, and 70 wildcat and ODP/DSDP wells to define the complex Jurassic to Recent tectonic events that have inserted three allochthonous terranes with Pacific origins between the highly prolific hydrocarbon regions of northern South America and the Gulf of Mexico. To date there have been numerous shows and seeps but no commercial production from the western Caribbean region. This study aims to define: 1) The nature and location of the present day boundaries of the crustal provinces; 2) the subsequent sedimentary basins that formed as a result of the tectonic processes that emplaced these terranes; and 3) the critical risks associated with modern petroleum exploration in each province. Previous work from the onshore portion of Honduras has defined the Chortis block as a Paleozoic-Mesozoic continental block, with a southwestward facing passive margin that formed following the Early Jurassic rifting event that separated North and South America. The Campanian collision of the Siuna oceanic terrane formed a northeast-verging fold and thrust belt, with the northernmost deformation occurring at the present day Colon Mountains, and an offshore suture zone that can be mapped to the northeast for 150 km. Restricted marine piggy-back basins formed during the Eocene as the fold belt was reactivated during the opening of the Cayman Trough. A coeval, regional subsidence event has been observed in wells from Honduras to Jamaica during this time. Eocene age source rocks encountered in Jamaica and Honduras have been immature, except for the Main Cape well of Honduras. Source rock maturity remains the critical risk factor for Eocene plays of the northern Nicaraguan Rise. An unproven Cretaceous age passive margin play may exist in the offshore portions of Honduras beneath the Tertiary carbonate cap.