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ABSTRACT: Structural Style and Petroleum Prospects of the Kuqa Depression, Northern Tarim Basin, Northwest China

C. L. McKnight, M. Hendrix, E. Sobel, B. Schulein, A. Carroll, J. Chu

The Kuqa depression is a 400-km × 100-km, east-west-trending foredeep basin located on the northern margin of the Tarim craton in northwestern China. A 10-km-thick nonmarine Mesozoic and Cenozoic sedimentary section has accumulated in the basin as the Tian Shan range to the north and has been episodically uplifted and thrust southward, tectonically loading the craton margin and providing source areas for clastic sediments. Regional mapping from Landsat images and field reconnaissance reveal important details of the structural style of the Kuqa depression.

The Kuqa depression is characterized by thin-skinned deformation resulting in a series of steep, faulted, elongate folds. Thick, mobile Tertiary shale sequences and an Upper Cretaceous-lower Tertiary evaporite section in the west form detachment horizons separating disharmonically deformed structural packages. At the southern margin of the depression, the Mesozoic-Cenozoic section overrides faulted Paleozoic strata of the North Tarim uplift. Here, the Neogene Qiulitage anticline extends 250 km along the basin margin.

Beginning in 1984, several important oil discoveries have been made in the Paleozoic section on the North Tarim uplift. Analysis of an oil sample indicates its compatibility with a lower Paleozoic marine source. Other potential source rocks in the Kuqa depression include Jurassic oil shales and coals.

Sandstone reservoir strata and structural trapping geometries are numerous, but exploration risks are complicated by the presence of the ductile evaporite and shale seals. If nonmarine source rocks are also present in the thick Cenozoic section, the Kuqa depression may be an attractive exploration target.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91003©1990 AAPG Annual Convention, San Francisco, California, June 3-6, 1990