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The Northern European Atlantic Margin: Promises and Challanges of a World-Class Frontier Area

Abstract

The NNE-SSW-trending northern European Atlantic margin spans the northern North Sea (Norway), Faroe-Shetland Basin (U.K.) and the Rockall, Hatton and Porcupine basins (U.K.-Ireland). Substantial petroleum systems (>55 BBOE recoverable) have been proven along this continental margin, with an historical success rate of 39%. The conjugate margin of eastern Canada has also been highly successful (∼25% success rate), including recent discoveries on the continental slope. However, large portions of these prolific margins are remarkably under-explored. In particular, the Rockall and Hatton basins (∼500,000 km2) host only 21 dry wells and 3 gas wells; whereas the Møre Basin area (∼80,000 km2) only hosts 30 dry wells and 5 oil and gas discoveries. This work examines an extensive 2D broadband and vintage seismic dataset across the whole northern European and Canadian Atlantic margins, with the aim of highlighting plays and leads in the less explored basins. The Rockall and Møre basins share several geological features with the rest of the northern Atlantic margins, including: (a) mainly Cretaceous rifting with further possible extensional pulses in the Permo-Triassic, Late Jurassic and/or Paleocene; (b) a break-up age becoming younger northwards, from Late Cretaceous to Early Eocene; (c) Eocene to Miocene inversion tectonics. The play types as highlighted by confirmed discoveries are also similar throughout the North Atlantic margins and include: (1) pre- to syn-rift targets on the crests of tilted fault-blocks; (2) early post-rift pinchouts (usually in deep-water turbidite complexes) above fault-block source kitchens; (3) inversion- or sill- related four-way dip closures. Mature source rock intervals likely comprise Carboniferous coals, Upper Jurassic Kimmeridge Clay and various Cretaceous marine shales. A significant difference between parts of the under-explored European areas and the rest of the margin is represented by extensive pre-breakup (Late Paleocene) igneous activity north of about 55°N. These hinder the seismic imaging of the syn- to pre-rift successions and pose both risks and new opportunities. Other challenges include the deep-water (up to 2 km) of the under-explored areas and their distance from the coast (100–750 km). Nevertheless, the presence of all the key elements of a working petroleum system, together with the sheer basin size, makes the North Atlantic continental margins hugely attractive for the future of deep-water hydrocarbon exploration.