AAPG/SPE Africa Energy and Technology Conference

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Regionally Connected Structural Systems: The Power of the Big (Continental-Scale) Picture


Beyond offshore West Africa where modern densely-sampled data from ships and satellites have played a key role in current understanding of passive margin evolution, Africa is in general rather unevenly known, especially in the subsurface in more remote areas. The GIS-based Exploration Fabric of Africa (EFA, the ‘Purdy project’) was designed to address that problem. It includes structural features such as faults and basin outlines but at a very high and often generalized level, divorced from their underlying genetic linkages. We have undertaken to compile a more detailed tectonic synthesis aimed to integrate understanding of the oceanic margins with the continental realm. This is an overlay to EFA with a variety of public domain, published, non-exclusive, and derivatives of proprietary work at a closer and more detailed level, importantly guided by known patterns of structural styles. Potential field (gravity and magnetic) data provide guidance in locating, extending, and connecting key mapped features; we then rely on the kinematic patterns to predict missing details in a testable interpretation. The result is a detailed structural features map that can function as a framework within which to target and prioritize both conventional and unconventional activity by operators and licensing/regulatory organizations. We illustrate the process in theory and in practice along the Central African Rift System (CARS), where data is sparse. This fault linkage systems approach has flagged underexplored areas where unmapped structure is likely that could, for example, be targeted with hi-resolution geophysical data. A similar system to CARS appears to cross southern Africa from Namibia to Tanzania - a “Southern Trans-African Rift system” or STARS. Exploration in the eastern Owambo Basin resulted in the mapping of a pull-apart basin from depth-to-basement inversion of high-resolution magnetic data and subsequently studied with structural modeling. Thinking in terms of such fault and structural systems, this ‘Kavango Basin’ can be related along strike to the Karoo Basins in Eastern Africa via features such as the Omaruru lineament, implying the possibility of a fairway of extensional basins and shears across the continent that are not obvious in existing low-resolution data. STARS represents a blue-sky frontier concept for both conventional and nonconventional exploration potentially offering new exploration leads, the ultimate objective of big picture work.