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Journal of Petroleum Geology, Vol.

28(4), October 2005, pp 339 - 368


M. L. Bordenave* and J. A. Hegre **
The timing of the orogenic events associated with the closure of South Tethys significantly
influenced the generation, migration and entrapment of petroleum in the Zagros Foldbelt of Iran.
This influence was particularly important in the Dezful Embayment, which is one of the worlds
richest oil provinces, containing some 8% of global oil reserves in an area of only 60,000 sq. km.
In the Dezful Embayment, oil and associated gas occur in two carbonate reservoirs the Sarvak
Formation of Cenomanian to Turonian age, and the Oligocene - Early Miocene Asmari Formation,
sealed by the evaporites of the Gachsaran Formation. The oil and associated gas are trapped in
large whaleback anticlines which formed during the Neogene Zagros orogeny. Two excellent
source rocks, the Albian Kazhdumi Formation and the upper part of the Pabdeh Formation (Middle
Eocene to Early Oligocene), supplied the Asmari and Sarvak reservoirs and with them form the
Middle Cretaceous to Early Miocene Petroleum System.This system was found to be independent
of older petroleum systems.
Two particular problems are addressed in this paper. The first is the relative timing of trap
formation versus oil expulsion from the source rocks. If oil expulsion occurred prior to Zagros
folding, the oil would have migrated along gently dipping ramps towards the Persian (Arabian) Gulf
and Southern Iraq, and would have been trapped a long way from the source kitchen. By contrast,
if oil expulsion took place when the whaleback anticlines already existed or had at least begun to
develop, the oil generated would have moved almost vertically towards the nearest anticline.Secondly,
we assess the type of heatflow to be used for modelling.This could be either variable or constant,
depending on the stability or instability of the Arabian Platform and on subsidence variations
during source rock maturation.
Our conclusions can be summarized as follows. First, the paroxysmal phase of Zagros folding
commenced in the Dezful Embayment towards the end of the Middle Miocene around 10 Ma
ago and continued throughout the Late Miocene and Pliocene. Second, bearing in mind the
remarkable stability of the Arabian Platform for some 260 Ma, during which there was almost
continuous gentle subsidence between the Permian transgression and the Early Miocene, a constant
heatflow was used for modelling. Burial profiles and maturity indices, such as vitrinite reflectance
and Rock-Eval parameters, demonstrate that the Kazhdumi and Pabdeh source rocks reached
the onset of oil expulsion during deposition of the Agha Jari Formation between 8 and 3Ma,
depending upon the location.This chronology means that oil migrated from source rocks into preexisting Zagros structures.Therefore, oil migrated over short distances to nearby traps within welldefined drainage areas, the geometry of which can be deduced from seismic data. Moreover, the
Zagros folding induced prominent fracturing which can be observed both at outcrop and in wells.
This fracturing, which affects limestones as well as marls, enhanced subvertical migration of
hydrocarbons towards the reservoirs.
As a result of this short distance migration, oils
can directly be linked to the source rocks which
* Consultant, 24, avenue President Kennedy, 75016 Paris,
generated them by oil-oil and oil--source rock
correlations based on stable isotope ( 13C, 34S)
corresponding author, email:
and biomarker data. Modelling of each drainage
** TOTAL, Cedex 47, 92069 Paris La Dfense, France.
area provides estimates of the amount of oil



Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

expelled by each source rock. Calculated estimates can

then be compared to the actual oil-in-place of the
corresponding field. An example of this modelling
procedure is given in this paper.
In the Zagros Foldbelt of Iran, the Dezful Embayment,
a depression in southern Khuzestan which covers an
area of only 60,000sq. km, contains some 45 oilfields
which account for more than 360 billion barrels of oil
in-place, corresponding to some 8% of global oil
reserves (Figs. 1 and 2). The Dezful Embayment is
bounded to the north by the Bala Rud flexure, to the
NE by the Mountain Front, and to the east by the
major Kazerun fault. The co-existence of extremely
rich source rocks, excellent reservoirs, a widespread
and efficient evaporitic cap rock, large whaleback
anticlines, and rock fracturing resulting from Neogene
Zagros folding partly explain the occurrence of this
prolific oil province. Another important factor,
addressed in this paper, is the relative timing of oil
expulsion from the source rocks and the formation of
the anticlinal traps. Both aspects of this relative
chronology are discussed, i.e. the history of the Zagros
orogenic phases, and the timing of oil generation,
expulsion and migration which in turn depends on
the subsidence history of the study area.
A database including in excess of 4,500 field samples,
cores and ditch cuttings was used to study the
distribution, thickness and organic characteristics of
the source rocks occurring in the Zagros Foothills of
Iran (Bordenave and Burwood, 1990, 1995). This
database was complemented by the study of thin
sections from high density ditch cuttings from 55 key
wells, together with a review of their gamma-ray logs.
The isotopic composition of 40 oil samples and source
rock pyrolysates were measured.
The timing of oil expulsion was estimated by
thermal modelling using the Arrhenius equation and
the GENEX programme (Ungerer, 1993) developed
by IFP (Institut Franais du Ptrole). Burial history
profiles were constructed for selected wells located
close to the top of the main producing anticlines.
Erosion was carefully estimated from regional
isopachs and extrapolated vitrinite profiles. Kinetic
parameters were determined by pyrolysis using IFPs
OPTKIN programme for immature samples of the
Kazhdumi and Pabdeh source rocks.
The beginning of the oil window was determined
by using the calibrated heat flow and the kinetic
parameters of each source rock. The expulsion
window was determined by assuming that expulsion

began when 30% of the source rock pore space was

saturated by generated petroleum. The beginning of
the expulsion window was compared to the time of
structural growth of the Zagros anticlines.
Orogenic phases were observed near the NE
margin of the Arabian Platform, close to the former
margin of South Tethys. These phases, together with
their effect on the Platform itself, were reviewed in
terms of the formation of unconformity surfaces, the
readjustment of the pre-existing fault network, the
movement of the Late Proterozoic Hormuz salt,
together with erosion and subsidence. The relationship
between orogenic phases and Platform subsidence is
also discussed.
The study area is located in the Zagros Foldbelt, in
the NE of the Arabian Platform (Figs 1, 2). For large
parts of the Phanerozoic, this platform was covered
by a wide, generally shallow intracratonic sea, the
shoreline of which fluctuated widely according to sealevel changes and low-amplitude subsidence
variations. As shown in the general stratigraphic
column (Fig. 3), the Permian to Early Miocene
succession is dominated by carbonates consisting
generally of high-energy oxygenated limestones, with
breaks in sedimentation on regional highs; low-energy
argillaceous limestones and marls are present in
depressions (James and Wynd, 1965; Murris, 1980).
Carbonate sedimentation was temporarily interrupted
either by evaporitic episodes or by sudden influxes of
siliciclastics. Thick evaporite sequences developed as
a result of arid climatic conditions during the Late
Proterozoic with the deposition of the Hormuz Salt;
during the Triassic (Dashtak Formation); in the Late
Jurassic (Gotnia and Hith Formations); and towards
the end of the Early Miocene (Gachsaran Formation).
As a result of the erosion of the Arabian Shield during
sea-level lowstands and under humid climatic
conditions, large quantities of siliciclastics were
transported into the shallow-marine habitat during the
Middle to Late Barremian (Zubair Sandstones), Albian
(Burgan Sandstones), and Early Miocene (Ahwaz/
Ghar Sandstones).
Excellent source rocks were deposited during the
Early Silurian (Llandoverian), Middle Jurassic
(Sargelu Formation), Neocomian (lower part of the
Garau Formation), Albian (Kazhdumi Formation),
Early Cenomanian (Ahmadi Member/Shilaif
Formation) and Middle Eocene/Early Oligocene
(Pabdeh Formation). The depositional environment,
distribution, thickness and geochemical characteristics
of these source rocks were described by Bordenave
and Burwood, 1990 and 1995; Bordenave and Huc,
1995; and Bordenave, 2002a.

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre

Fig. 1. General location map of the Middle East region; the boxed area shows the location of Fig. 2.

Fig. 2. Location map of oil- and gasfields in the Zagros Foothills and Persian (Arabian) Gulf.



Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

Table 1. Rock-Eval parameters and elemental composition of the Kazhdumi and Pabdeh source rocks
at Kuh-e Bangestan (location in Fig. 2).

In contrast to the Silurian shales which were

deposited in a near-polar setting and which were related
to a marked transgression resulting from the melting
of Ordovician glaciers, the other source rocks were
deposited in tropical or equatorial, dominantly
calcareous environments. The Mesozoic and Cenozoic
source rocks were deposited in intracratonic
depressions at a time when anoxic conditions prevailed
as a result of water-column stratification, during high
stands. These source rocks contain at least 70%
carbonates and are best referred to as marls or as
argillaceous limestone. They have excellent source
characteristics with TOC values varying from 4% to
12%, and Hydrogen Indices in the range of 650 g HC/
kg C. They are generally more than 250m thick in the
centres of the depressions (Garau, Kazhdumi and
Pabdeh Formations). Silurian shales contain little
sulphur; by contrast, Jurassic and younger source rocks
which were deposited in euxinic environments contain
up to 7% organic sulphur (Table 1).
A Cretaceous to Early Miocene Petroleum System can
be defined in the Zagros Foldbelt and is especially
prolific in the Dezful Embayment. This system
comprises two reservoirs, the Asmari and Bangestan
Formations, and two source rocks, the Albian
Kazhdumi Formation and the Pabdeh Formation of
Middle Eocene to Early Oligocene age.
1.Reservoir rocks
The Oligocene -- Early Miocene Asmari limestone
contains about 75% of onshore Iranian oil reserves,
while the Bangestan Group accounts for 23% of the
reserves. A third reservoir unit, the Khami Group
(Neocomian to Aptian), contains 2% of the reserves.

The 250 to 500m thick Asmari Formation is a

high-energy limestone rich in large foraminifera (such
as Nummulites, Neoalveolina and Myogypsina)
which retains excellent reservoir characteristics over
most of the study area. Its reservoir quality is
generally enhanced by a prominent system of
fractures which occurs near the tops of the high-relief
anticlines. In SW Khuzestan, the basal part of the
Asmari becomes sandy (Ahwaz Sandstone Member),
which increases its porosity. The Asmari is capped
by the thick evaporites of the Gachsaran Formation
which form an effective seal.
The Bangestan Group includes the thick Sarvak
limestone (300m to 1000m thick) of CenomanianTuronian age and the thinner Ilam Formation (50m
to 200m thick) of Santonian age. These two reservoir
intervals are separated in Lurestan by the Surgah
marls but form a single reservoir in most of the Dezful
Two depositional facies can be recognized in the
Sarvak Formation. These are a high-energy, neritic
facies with massive limestones, rich in gastropods,
pelecypods, large foraminifera and rudist debris,
which often has fair reservoir characteristics; and a
basinal equivalent, tight, micritic, often argillaceous
limestone, known as the Oligostegina facies. The
basinal facies extends over Central Lurestan and the
Paris- Karanj area in Khuzestan. As the Pabdeh and
Gurpi marls are heavily fractured in the high-relief
anticlines, as observed at surface outcrops as well as
in cores, the Asmari and Bangestan reservoirs are
often connected.
The Khami Group includes two relatively highenergy limestone intervals (the Neocomian Fahliyan
Formation and the Aptian Dariyan Formation)
separated by a more argillaceous interval (Gadvan
Formation). In the central and NE part of the Dezful
Embayment, the lowermost part of the Fahliyan

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre


Fig. 3. Schematic stratigraphy and source rocks-reservoir-seal relationships for the Dezful Embayment and
neighbouring areas. The principal source rocks are indicated by green flags and marginal ones by white flags.
Reservoirs (Res), and seals are also indicated (after Bordenave and Burwood, 1995).


Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

Fig. 4. Isopach map of organic-rich layers (TOC > 1%) in the Albian Kazhdumi Formation, in SW Iran (after
Bordenave and Burwood, 1995).

Formation is replaced by its tight, basinal timeequivalent Garau facies. In Lurestan, the entire Khami
interval is represented by the Garau facies. The Dariyan
Formation is sealed by the organic-rich Kazhdumi
marls. The reservoir characteristics of the Khami
limestone are generally poor in the Dezful Embayment,
with the exception of a brief lowstand period which
led to the deposition of a 20 to 30m thick reservoir
interval, the Khalij Member of the Gadvan Formation.
Exploration results in the Khami reservoir have so far
been disappointing. Only limited volumes of oil have
been found (Ahwaz, Chillingar and Mansuri) as well
as marginal gas reserves (Agha Jari, Gachsaran).
However, Khami targets have often not been tested
properly due to technical problems at levels deeper
than 4,500-5,000m.
2. Source rocks
The Albian Kazhdumi source rocks were deposited in
a silled, intrashelf depression which corresponds
almost exactly to the present-day Dezful Embayment
(Fig. 4). However, the Kazhdumi source rocks may
extend eastwards, north of Shiraz. By contrast, the
Pabdeh source rocks were deposited in a NW-SE
elongated trough parallel to the Zagros suture (Fig.
5). Anoxic conditions during the Eocene were probably
related to upwelling currents in the Eastern
Mediterranean, as suggested by the phosphatic and
cherty character of the bituminous argillaceous
carbonates deposited in Jordan from Maastrichtian to
Eocene times (Beydoun et al., 1994).
Another source rock, the Ahmadi Member of the
Sarvak Formation, which is bituminous in the northern
Persian (Arabian) Gulf and in the Binak area,

accumulated in front of the prograding wedge of the

Wara Formation during the Late Cenomanian. As far
as oil generation is concerned, the significance of the
Ahmadi Member is limited to the southern tip of the
Dezful Embayment and to the northern part of the
3. Relationship with older petroleum systems
A question to be addressed is which source rocks
charged the Asmari, Bangestan and Khami Formation
reservoirs; and more precisely, did the older source
rocks (the Silurian shales, the Sargelu and the Garau
marls) play a role in charging these reservoirs.
Silurian source rocks supplied the huge gas
accumulations in Permian carbonate reservoirs, which
are capped by Triassic evaporites, on regional highs
and in salt-related structures, as early as the Early
Cretaceous (Bordenave, 2002b). The influence of
Zagros folding on these accumulations was limited
to the relocation of gas into newly-formed anticlines,
such as Dalan, Kangan, Mand, Nar, Tabnak and
Varavi in Fars, and Samand and Kabir Kuh in
The Palaeozoic Petroleum System related to these
Silurian shales does not generally interfere with the
younger systems due to the presence of efficient
caprocks formed by massive anhydritic intervals in
the Triassic Dashtak Formation, supplemented in most
of the Dezful Embayment and in Lurestan by the thick
basinal evaporites of the Adaiyah, Alan and Gotnia
Formations (Fig. 3). These evaporites prevent
Palaeozoic hydrocarbons from reaching the
Cretaceous or younger reservoirs. The 13C of the
kerogen in Silurian shales is about -31 , compared

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre


Fig. 5. Isopach map of organic-rich layers (TOC > 1%) in the Middle Eocene to Oligocene Pabdeh Formation,
SW Iran.

Fig. 6. Isopach map of the base-Kazhdumi to top-Mishan interval in SW Iran.

to -27.2 to -24.5 for oils in the Dezful Embayment

and Zagros Foothills (Bordenave and Burwood, 1990;
Brosse and Bordenave, 1993).
The Middle Jurassic Sargelu organic-rich marls
(initial TOC in the 6% to 10% range) are well developed
in Lurestan and Khuzestan. Here, the Gotnia evaporites
(salt and anhydrite) prevent hydrocarbons originating
in the Sargelu Formation from reaching overlying
reservoir units. The efficiency of the 100 to 200m thick
Gotnia seal is confirmed by a marked difference between
the isotopic compositions of pyrolysates from the
Sargelu Formation ( 13C = 28.7 0.5 ) and those of

oils in the Asmari and Bangestan Formation

The Garau source rocks are overlain in the
Dezful Embayment by thick, generally tight,
argillaceous limestones (either from the upper part
of the Garau Formation or from the Fahliyan,
Gadvan, and Dariyan Formations). Some oil
generated by the Garau Formation may have reached
the Khalij Member, and some oil could have
migrated per descensum from the Kazhdumi
Formation source rocks. However, as the amount
of oil trapped in the Dariyan/Khalij Member


Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

represents less than 2% of the total of the oil

discovered in the Dezful Embayment, the contribution
from the Garau Formation is considered to be
Therefore, the Middle Cretaceous to Early
Miocene Petroleum System is considered to be
independent of the older petroleum systems. The
Kazhdumi and Pabdeh source rocks are assumed to
have charged the Asmari and Bangestan reservoirs in
the Dezful Embayment, and only these two formations
were used for modelling in this paper.
4. Discussion
If oil expulsion from the Kazhdumi and Pabdeh source
rocks occurred prior to the Zagros folding, oil would
have migrated along low-angle ramps towards the
Persian (Arabian) Gulf, coastal Fars and into
Southern Iraq (Fig. 6). In such a scenario, oil would
have been trapped far from the kitchen area where it
was formed.
By contrast, if oil expulsion occurred when the
Zagros folds had already formed or had at least started
to grow, oil generated would have moved towards the
nearest anticline. In this case, seismic data would
permit the definition for each anticline of a drainage
area; migration is sub-vertical, oil-to-source rock
correlation becomes possible, and a modelling
technique can be applied as a tool to estimate the oilin-place expected in undrilled anticlines (Bordenave
and Nili, 1973).
Three main stratigraphic and tectonic units have been
identified in the Zagros Domain (Fig 7), namely from
SW to NE: the Zagros Foldbelt; the Sanandaj-Sirjan
Zone; and the Urumieh-Dokhtar Magmatic Zone
(Stcklin, 1974). The boundary between the SanandajSirvan Zone and the Zagros Foldbelt corresponds to
the Main Zagros Thrust. The Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone is
limited to the NE by the Urumieh-Dokhtar Magmatic
Zone which is considered to be an ensialic arc related
to the subduction of a segment of the South Tethys
beneath the Central Iran Block, and therefore is part
of the Central Iran Block (Alavi, 1994 and 2004).
Stratigraphic studies suggest that during the
Precambrian and Palaeozoic, the Central Iran Block
was part of the Arabian Platform (Fig. 7) and thus
belonged to Gondwanaland (Stcklin, 1974). This
hypothesis has been confirmed by the similarity
between the geomagnetic poles of the Gondwana
landmass and those of the Central Iran Block during
the Palaeozoic (Berberian and King, 1981).

On the Arabian Platform, an extensional

Hercynian orogenic phase (Late Silurian and
Carboniferous) resulted in the formation of a system
of N-S oriented horsts and tilted blocks. This phase is
clearly observed in Saudi Arabia, where exploration
wells have shown that more than 1,000m of sediments
was removed on some horsts (McGillivray, 1992).
Similar conclusions were made in Iran from outcrops
in the High Zagros (Szabo and Kheradpir, 1978).
Permo-Triassic pull-apart and the
formation of South Tethys
From Middle to Late Triassic time, the similarity
between the sediments deposited on the Arabian
Platform and those deposited on the Central Iran Block
ended. While shallow-water, mostly calcareous
sedimentation continued on the Platform, a sudden
change to coal-bearing, paralic and continental clastic
deposition occurred in Central Iran indicating regional
uplift. The fragmentation of Central Iran into a horstand-graben system is suggested by abrupt changes in
thickness in both Late Triassic and Liassic deposits
across fault block boundaries (Stcklin, 1968 and
Break-up of the Arabian Platform is demonstrated
by the deposition of deep-marine sediments such as
radiolarian cherts and siliceous micritic limestones,
associated with turbiditic deposits which originated
from the adjacent platforms, and which accumulated
NE of the present Main Zagros Thrust in the
Radiolarite Trough. The lower parts of these
successions in the Neyriz and Kermanshah areas have
been dated as Late Triassic (Ricou, 1974; Braud,
1987). These deep-water sediments were deposited
in a narrow ocean which extended parallel to the edge
of the Arabian Platforms new margin from Oman to
the present-day Mediterranean area. The Radiolarite
Trough would be equivalent to Neo-Tethys 1, as
proposed by Glennie (1995, 2000), with a spreading
phase active during the Triassic. By comparison with
Oman, continental break-up may have begun as early
as the Permian (Glennie, 2000). Near Neyriz, Permian
volcanic activity in the Khounsar nappes, part of the
Sanandaj-Sirjan tectonic unit, may be related to the
beginning of the break-up.
During the Triassic to Early Jurassic, the
stratigraphic sequence in the Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone,
located to the NE of the Radiolarite Trough, remained
generally similar to that of the Central Iran Block
(continental shales and greywackes). This similarity
gives credence to the assumption that the SanandajSirjan Zone was still attached to Central Iran. Arctype magmatic activity and low-grade metamorphism
(greenschist facies) observed both in the Central Iran
Block and in the Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone were possibly
related to the existence of a temporary subduction zone

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre


Fig. 7. Structural map of Iran showing the locations where Proterozoic and Palaeozoic sediments display a
striking similarity (A) in the High Zagros, and (B) in the Central Iran block (modified from Stcklin, 1974).
Three tectonic zones can be recognised, from SW to NE: the Zagros Foldbelt; the Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone; and
the Urumieh-Dokhtar magmatic Zone (black). The Main Zagros Thrust, according to Stcklin (1974),
separates the Zagros Foldbelt from the Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone. The Urumieh-Dokhtar Zone is thought to be a
subduction-related magmatic arc along the active margin of the Iranian plates (Alavi, 1994 and 2004), and to
belong to the Central Iran Block. The SW boundary of the Urumieh-Dokhtar Zone would be the suture
between the Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone and the Central Iran Block (dotted line).


Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

Fig. 8. Cartoons illustrating the similarities and differences between the history of Neo-Tethys 1 and 2 in Iran
and Oman. No fixed scale is implied. S-S corresponds to the Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone (after Glennie, 2000, 2005).

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre


Fig. 9. Structural cartoon showing the relationship in Lurestan between the Arabian Platform and South
Tethys during the Triassic and after the pre-Maastrichtian phase (modified after Braud, 1987).

on the SW margin of the Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone

(Berberian and King, 1981).
By analogy with Oman, it can be assumed that the
Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone became separated from the
Central Iran Block as the result of a jump of the
spreading axis during the Late Triassic (Glennie, 1995,
2000, 2005). However, the pull-apart between the
Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone and the Central Iran Block may
have occurred later, as volcanic activity continued until
the end of the Jurassic and a tectonic phase resulted
in a marked schistosity in the pre-Cretaceous
sedimentary rocks. Regardless of its date, this pullapart formed the main South Tethys Ocean (NeoTethys 2 of Glennie, ibid.), in which spreading
continued at least up to the end of the Middle
Cretaceous (Fig. 8).
In Lurestan, a narrow continental slab (the Bisotun
Shoal), extending over 400 km from Lurestan to Iraq,
bound the Radiolarite Trough to the NE. More than
3,000m of reefal to bioclastic limestones were
deposited almost continuously from the Late Triassic
to the Cenomanian (Braud, 1987). The relationship
between the Bisotun continental slab and the
Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone is not well established.
However, due to the apparent lack of metamorphism
in the Bisotun limestones, these two units appear to
have little in common (Fig. 9).

The first period of stability of the

Arabian Platform
Formation isopachs, facies distributions and the
absence of marked angular unconformities indicate
the Arabian Platforms remarkable stability during
some 180Ma from the Permian transgression to the
end of the Albian. Monotonous shallow-water, dominantly calcareous sedimentation continued in Fars,
while more argillaceous basinal facies and relatively
deep-water evaporites accumulated in the Lurestan
depression and in most of the Dezful Embayment.
Contrary to what might be expected, the breakups between the Arabian Platform and Central Iran
did not cause any significant anomalies on the Arabian
Platform, even near to its NE margin. As shown in
Fig. 10, subsidence remained moderate and almost
constant throughout the Permian to Albian interval.
Apparent subsidence (i.e. the ratio between formation
thickness and the duration of its deposition) remained
about 20m/Ma.
During the Permian to Early Jurassic, South Tethys
began to widen with the formation of oceanic crust,
as the result of the northward drift of Central Iran;
while a Palaeo-Tethys Ocean, which existed during
the Palaeozoic at the present northern margin of the
Elburz Range, progressively narrowed and was closed
by the end of the Lias (Stcklin, 1974). After the suture


Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

Fig. 10. Relationship between subsidence variations in the Iranian part of the Arabian Platform, corresponding
to the present-day Zagros Foldbelt and orogenic events observed on the NE margin of the Platform (well
locations are indicated in Fig. 2; estimates of the eroded section at each well are shown in yellow).
A. Orogenic events observed close to the Platform margin. B. Apparent subsidence (ratio of formation
thickness to time of deposition) observed from deep wells and surface sections from Fars to Lurestan.
C. Apparent subsidence in Dezful Embayment wells from west to east.

of Palaeo-Tethys, the African-Arabian plate continued

to move northwards (Dercourt et al., 1985; Scotese
and Golenka, 1993).
The South Tethys progressively narrowed as the
result of its subduction beneath Central Iran, whose
SE margin was active as shown by tectonic activity
and metamorphism that ceased towards the end of the
Jurassic or the end Early Cretaceous (Ricou, 1974;
Barberian and King, 1981).
This assumption seems to be confirmed by the
recent discovery of pre-Jurassic ophiolites in the Khoy
area (NW Iran). These ophiolites, metamorphosed as
the result of Early Jurassic, Middle Jurassic and Early
Cretaceous tectonic episodes, were interpreted as
being part of a subduction accretionary complex
developed beneath the Central Iran Block margin
(Khalatbari-Jafari et al., 2004).

Middle Cretaceous instability

During the Cenomanian, a sudden increase in
subsidence is observed throughout the present-day
Zagros Foothills, demonstrating a gentle downwarping
of the Platform. Apparent subsidence during the
deposition of the Sarvak Formation increased by a
factor of almost ten compared to that in the previous
period, to reach 18050 m/Ma (Fig. 10). This
downwarping of the Arabian Platform was
synchronous with the very beginning of a preMaastrichtian orogenic phase. This phase was marked
near the NE margin of the Arabian Platform by the
appearance of conglomeratic and brecciated facies in
the Sarvak Formation indicating growing instability
(Stoneley, 1981 and 1990; Braud 1987).
This pre-Maastrichtian Phase also caused a
readjustment of the Hercynian fault network

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre

together with the mobilization of the Hormuz Salt,

leading to the piercement of a large number of salt
diapirs and the formation of salt domes and of northsouth elongated salt swells (Kent, 1979). These saltrelated structures locally caused a marked thinning of
the Upper Cretaceous sediments (Koop and Stoneley,
The pre-Maastrichtian collision
Uplift and erosion of the former Radiolarite Trough
can be observed along the NE margin of the Arabian
Platform, both in Fars, around Neyriz and in Lurestan.
In the Neyriz area, Coniacian Globotruncana
limestones contain thin beds of conglomerates
consisting of radiolarite microclasts and debris from
turbiditic shallow-water limestones. NW of Neyriz,
at Rushan Kuh and Kuh-e Dalneshin (Ricou, 1974;
Stoneley, 1981), these beds are replaced by a flysch
made up of radiolarite material (Arsenjan Flysch).
In Lurestan, the first radiolarite debris occurs in
Campanian marls. At Kuh-e Zangalian, 10km NW of
Kermanshah in Lurestan, marls dated as Campanian
become chaotic at their top and contain unsorted
blocks (ranging from pebble-size to a few cubic
metres) of contorted radiolarites and Cretaceous
limestone. These sediments have been interpreted as
olistostromes, originating from a very closeby uplifted
area (Braud, 1987).
In the Neyriz area, at least five low-angle tectonic
units, thrust one over the other (the Pichakun nappes)
were emplaced on the top of Cenomanian to Coniacian
autochthonous sediments without any visible
truncation at the tectonic contact (Fig. 9). Each of these
nappes contains a similar succession of well-dated
sediments comprising: pre-rift Triassic marls,
associated with Ladinian-Norian reefal facies; and
post-rift sediments including siliceous limestones with
a few radiolarite beds and turbidites (Lias-Dogger),
thick radiolarites (Late Jurassic to Aptian), and
Cenomanian conglomeratic limestones. The contacts
between the units generally correspond to plastic
Triassic marls which acted as detachment surfaces.
These nappes were probably emplaced by gravity and
not as the result of compression (Ricou, 1974).
Extremely thick, massive basic volcanic rocks
made up of gabbro and peridotite (possibly up to
7,000m thick), interpreted as ophiolites, are thrust over
the Pichakun nappes. However, between the
radiolarites and the ophiolites, a chaotic assemblage
of polymorphic blocks of various sizes is present and
is referred to as a Colored Melange. This Colored
Melange, which includes huge slabs, up to 7km long,
2km wide and 300m thick, of Megalodon limestone
has been dated as Triassic. It was interpreted by Ricou
to be a tectonic melange scraped off by the ophiolite
nappes (Fig. 11). The Triassic Megalodon limestone


slabs present in the melange may have originated from

a Bisotun-like unit. There is a broad similarity
between the Pichakun nappes and the overlying
gabbros and peridotites observed in the Neyriz area,
and the Hawasina and Semail units of Oman (Glennie,
1995, 2000, 2005).
A similar history has been reconstructed for
Lurestan, but folded radiolarite nappes are overthrust
by the massive limestone layers of the Bisotun Shoal,
which are in turn overthrust by at least two ophiolite
units (Braud, 1987). Intense compression that lasted
for about 19Ma (from the beginning of the Coniacian to
the end of the Campanian) may have resulted from the
collision between the descending Bisotun Slab and the
Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone. This compression would have
caused the aggradation of the former Radiolarite Trough
and of the Bisotun Slab to the Arabian Platform, and the
obduction of the ophiolite nappes on top of the two other
units (Fig.9). The pre-Maastrichtian phase would
correspond to the closure of the Neo-Tethys 1, according
to Glennies nomenclature, caused by subduction related
to the collision of the Arabian Platform with the
Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone.
The second period of stability
(Maastrichtian-Middle Eocene)
Tectonic activity ceased abruptly in Fars. The thick
shallow-water limestones of the Tarbur Formation,
dated as Maastrichtian, sealed the nappes in NE Fars
and remained undisturbed for a long period (Fig.11).
In NE Lurestan, the obducted pre-Maastrichtian
nappes continued to form a high-relief zone which
was actively eroded, as shown by the accumulation
of thick Paleocene to Middle Eocene detrital
sediments (Amiran Flysch and conglomeratic red
beds of the Kashkan Formation). However, the
deposition of the coarsening-upward Kashkan
conglomerates demonstrates another phase of uplift
of the NE margin of the Platform and the overthrust
units during the Early to Middle Eocene. The area
was eventually covered by the gently unconformable
Shahbazan limestone dated as Late Eocene.
Unexpectedly, no trace of the pre-Maastrichtian
orogeny has been observed on the Arabian Platform.
There, the Ilam Limestone of Santonian age is
conformably overlain by the marls of the Gurpi
Formation in which the Campanian/Maestrichtian
boundary has only been recognized from microfossil
After the Coniacian uplift, a second period of
gentle subsidence occurred over most of the Platform
for 67Ma, extending from the beginning of the Late
Cretaceous to the end of the Oligocene. Apparent
subsidence was, in general, less than 10 m/Ma. A
significant exception corresponds to a subsiding
depression that extended over NE Fars (apparent


Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

Fig. 11. Schematic cross-sections across the pre-Maastrichtian nappes NW of Neyriz (approximate location in
Fig.12) (after Ricou, 1974). Locations of Neyriz, Rushan Kuh, and Bakhtegan Lake are indicated on Fig.12.
(a) SW-NE cross-section from Bakhtegan Lake to Rushan Kuh; (b) West-east cross-section on the southern
margin of Bakhtegan Lake, showing transgressive Tarbur Limestone (Maastrichtian) resting on the radiolarite
nappes (R), in turn overlain by the transgressive Eocene limestones (E) which rest on all the older formations,
nappes and autochthonous units (Ce: Cenomanian; Tu: Turonian; and Co: Coniacian).

subsidence in excess of 100 m/Ma), where Tarbur

limestones and sabkha-type anhydrites of the Sachun
Formation were deposited during the Maastrichtian
and the Early Paleocene.
The Late Eocene to Early Miocene instability
Low-angle unconformities have been observed in NE
Fars, at Rushan Kuh, 130km east of Shiraz, between
alveolinid limestones of Middle Eocene age and reefal
Early Miocene limestones (Ricou, 1974); and at Kuhe Kalat, 75 km west of Shiraz (Hessami et al., 2001).
At the second location, early tectonic movements
locally folded and uplifted the Pabdeh Formation
along the crest of the anticline. The Pabdeh was
slightly eroded at that point before deposition
continued after an angular unconformity (10-15o) in
the Asmari Formation. Locally, in the NE part of the
Zagros, the uppermost part of the Asmari consists of
a conglomerate with clasts derived from the Asmari
itself (Hessami et al., 2001). The occurrence of
conglomerates in the Rezak marls, partly timeequivalent to the Gachsaran Formation, in the Neyriz
area (Ricou, 1974; Motiei, 1993), and a 1,000m thick
conglomeratic unit in Lurestan (Braud, 1987), both
dated as Early Miocene, is also evidence for growing
instability, probably related to the beginning of the
closure of South Tethys.
This Late Eocene to Early Miocene preliminary
phase was marked by the uplift and the active erosion

of the NE margin of the Arabian Platform, including

both the autochthonous sediments and the preMaastrichtian nappes (radiolarite and ophiolite). This
phase probably corresponded to the beginning of
folding in the NE part of the Platform.
On the Platform, subsidence increased moderately
during deposition of the Asmari Formation (20 to 50
m/Ma), but became more significant with the
deposition of the Gachsaran evaporites (70 to 500 m/
Ma according to location). The apparent gentle
subsidence during the deposition of the Mishan
Formation is not considered to be significant. It might
partly be due to a period of deposition which was in
fact shorter than that used for the calculation (Fig.
10). According to seismic and well information from
the Dezful Embayment, the thickness of the Mishan
Formation, dated as Middle Miocene (11.6-16 Ma),
was not yet influenced by Zagros folding, and varied
regionally with a progressive thinning towards the SW.
As an example, the Mishan Formation at the Bebehan1 well, drilled on a deep-seated structure (top-Asmari
at 4,744m RTK) located between the Gachsaran and
the Pazanan anticlines, is 548m thick, which is
consistent with the regional isopachs of the Mishan
Formation. According to a field observation 55km SE
of the city of Bebehan, the top of the Mishan
Formation is truncated and overlain with angular
unconformity (20-25) by the Agha Jari Formation.
The Agha Jari beds demonstrate slight offlap

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre

Fig. 12. Location of the Pliocene Khounsar and Kuh-e Garun nappes in the Zagros Foldbelt, showing
their relationship with the NW-SE trending, dextral strike slip Zagros main fault (modified from
Braud and Ricou, 1971).



Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

indicating syndepositional growth of the anticline

(Hessami et al., 2001).
As noted for the pre-Maastrichtian phase, the
downwarping of the platform, which began during the
deposition of the Asmari and increased during the
deposition of the Gachsaran Formation, preceded the
main phase of the Zagros orogeny (Fig. 10).
The main Zagros orogenic phases
Some of the first evidence for the closure of South
Tethys at the NE margin of the Arabian Platform has
been observed at Rushan Kuh, NW of Neyriz (location
in Fig. 12). At that location, an undisturbed reefal
limestone, dated as Early Miocene, is overlain by
500m of flysch which becomes conglomeratic
towards the top. These conglomerates contain
elements of quartz and biotite which confirm the
proximity of the thrusted metamorphosed SanandajSirjan Zone (Ricou, 1974). Subsequently, locally great
thicknesses of syntectonic conglomerates, grouped
into a convenient but vague and undated Bakhtiari
Formation, do not permit the main Zagros orogenic
phases to be dated. According to Ricou (1974), in the
Neyriz area the younger undisturbed sediments on the
NE margin of the Platform can be dated as Burdigalian
(16-20 Ma).
As the result of the collision between the SanandajSirjan Zone and Central Iran, the former was pushed
towards the SW and thrust over the NE margin of the
Arabian Platform. The thrust units are known as the
Khounsar nappes in the Neyriz area, and the Garun
nappes in the Kermanshah area (Fig. 12). Thrusting
occurred over a previously eroded surface including,
according to the location, the pre-Maastrichtian
nappes, Miocene flysch, and various older Tertiary
intervals belonging to the Arabian Platform. These
nappes were emplaced through almost horizontal
thrusting. In Fars, the front of the Khounsar thrust
unit moved in a NNE-SSW direction over a distance
of more than 100km (Ricou, 1974). The thrusted units
show several episodes of metamorphism, dated as prePermian, Late Permian and Early Cretaceous (Ricou,
To the NW of the front of the Khounsar and Kuhe Garun nappes (Fig. 12), an almost linear NW-SE
trending dextral fault, whose plane varies from
subvertical to dipping at 45 and which is composed
of a succession of en chelon dextral segments,
appears to mark the SW limit the Sanandaj-Sirjan
Zone metamorphic sediments. This fault extends over
1,700km from Lake Van in Turkey to the Hormuz
Strait. It has been considered as the main Zagros
Suture (Braud and Ricou, 1971; Stcklin, 1974).
However, Alavi (1994, 2004) considered that the
Zagros suture may rather follow the SW limit of the
Urumieh-Dokhtar magmatic zone, the arc related to

the subduction of a segment of the South Tethys

beneath Central Iran.
This hypothesis is not inconsistent with the suture
of Neo-Tethys 2 as proposed by Glennie (1995,2005).
Two main tectonic phases would correspond to the
formation of the two sutures. The first suture, welding
the Arabian Platform, the Bisotun Slab and the
Sanandaj-Sirjan Zone, occurred during the Late
Cretaceous. The second, welding the Sanandaj-Sirjan
Zone and the Central Iran Block, began perhaps in
the Late Eocene or the Oligocene (as discussed below)
and became more active from the Early Miocene
onwards. The main folding of the Zagros Foldbelt
accompanied the second suture.
This dextral strike-slip fault displaced the nappes,
and is therefore younger than the time of their
emplacement. According to Ricou (1974), one
orogenic phase (phase A) corresponded to NE-SW
shortening of the Zagros Domain and to the formation
of the high amplitude, NW-SE trending Zagros folds.
A second phase (phase B) caused north-south
shortening with dextral movement along the Zagros
suture. This phase would also have reactivated the
old Hercynian fault network, and in particular, the
Kazerun fault. It is also likely that phase B accentuated
the folds and resulted in the formation of asymmetric
and often thrusted SW flanks. Some anomalies of the
anticlinal axes, such as that observed at Rag-e Sefid
and in several structures in Fars, may be related to
phase B.
On the Arabian Platform, the subsidence rate
remained very high during deposition of the Agha Jari
Formation (dated as Late Miocene to Pliocene), from
100 to 300 m/Ma on structural highs and up to 500
m/Ma in lows (Fig. 10).
Limited seismic sections south of Gachsaran
suggest that, while the lowermost part of the Agha
Jari Formation kept the same thickness in the syncline
and on the anticlinal crests, its upper part, including
the Lahbari Member, pinched out as the result of the
structures growth. Available well information does
not permit any greater precision, as the Labhari
Member is rarely characterized in well descriptions.
However, a field observation in the north of the Dezful
Embayment, 40 km north of the city of Dezful, permits
greater precision about the timing of folding (Hessami
et al., 2001). On the southern flank of a large anticline
cored by exposed Asmari Formation, the Agha Jari
Formation (including the Lahbari Member) indicates
almost continuous and progressive structural growth
during the deposition of the Agha Jari Formation.
Magnetostratigraphic studies conducted in the
Zarrinabad syncline, located 20 km west of the
Samand gasfield in Lurestan (Homke et al., 2004)
showed that the deposition of the Agha Jari Formation
began during the middle part of the Serravallian (12.5

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre


Fig. 13. Schematic diagram showing the sequence of orogenic phases leading to folding of the entire Zagros
Simply Folded Zone (after Hessami et al., 2001). The deformation front of the Zagros Simply Folded Zone
has driven the foreland basin in front of it as it propagated episodically to the SW from the end of the Eocene.
Note that the deformation front migrated SWward causing the formation of local unconformities at the end
of the Eocene, Early Miocene (Burdigalian), Mid-Late Miocene and end-Pliocene.

Ma) and ended with the deposition of the Bakhtiari

conglomerates, 3Ma ago. According to the same
authors, the base of the Labhari Member can be dated
as 5.5 Ma (Uppermost Messinian).
As the result of a review of field evidence for
onlaps and offlaps associated with angular
unconformities and conglomerates, Hessami et al.
(2001) concluded that the deformation front marking
the limit of the folding of the Zagros anticlines
migrated progressively to the SW, from perhaps the
end of the Eocene. This migration occurred by
separate pulses from the NE of the Platform to the
present-day Zagros deformation front, pushing
sedimentary troughs progressively to the SW. The
deformation front reached the present Mountain
Front, which borders the Dezful Embayment to the
north, during the Early Miocene. Most of the presentday Dezful Embayment was reached by the
deformation front by the Late Miocene, while the SEmost anticlines (Ab-e Teymour and Mansuri) could
have formed during the Pliocene (Fig. 13).
It is reasonable to conclude that most of the
anticlines in the Dezful Embayment were formed
between 12.5Ma and perhaps 3Ma. The anticlines
located close to the Mountain Front are older, and the

structures become younger from NE to SW. A more

accurate age-dating of the folding could be achieved
by a systematic interpretation of high resolution
seismic data and by dating of the various parts of the
Agha Jari Formation in the Dezful Embayment wells
using both micropalaeontology and magnetostratigraphy.
The Zagros belt is still tectonically active as shown
by the gentle warping of the Bakhtiari conglomerates
and by Quaternary terraces affected by strike-slip
faults. Striking evidence for recent activity of the
Zagros orogen is the observation near the village of
Sarkhun, 150 km NW of Yasuj (Fig. 12), of Sarvak
limestone thrust over fossiliferous lacustrine marls of
Plio-Pleistocene age. The low-angle thrust which
separates the two units is related to the High Zagros
Fault (Bosold et al., 2005).
Moreover, recent earthquake epicentres are located
in the Zagros Foothills, i.e. in the Arabian Platform.
A large majority of the epicentres correspond to major,
north-south oriented dextral faults that are still active,
and are fairly shallow (0 to 20km: Niazi et al., 1978).
They seem to be related to continuing folding of
sediments above the Hormuz Salt which acts as a
detachment level.


Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran


The amplitude of folding progressively decreases from
NE to SW away from the Zagros suture, with a change
from asymmetric, often thrusted, high-relief large
anticlines to lower-relief structures such as Ab-e
Teymur, Mansuri and Binak. To the SW of these
anticlines, the influence of the Zagros orogeny is no
longer discernible (Falcon, 1961), and north-south
oriented structures, such as Hendijan, Darkhovin and
Azadegan, are related to salt pillowing along
Hercynian faults which were reactivated during the
Middle Cretaceous.
Typical Zagros anticlines give rise to impressive
high-amplitude whaleback-shaped mountains,
sometimes deeply dissected by erosion. These
anticlines, 5 to 15km wide and 50 to 100km long, are
often asymmetric with a steeper or even overturned
SW flank. The large size of the anticlines can be
explained in terms of the thick pile of competent
sediments (up to 10km) bounded by detachment
layers. The thick Hormuz Salt below acts as the major
detachment layer, and above are the Gachsaran
anhydrite and salt (Colman-Sadd, 1978). In addition,
the Triassic Dashtak anhydrite may form another
detachment level in SW Fars and NE of the Mountain
Front, as shown by the Bangestan-1 well (location on
Fig. 2). In the Dezful Embayment and in Lurestan,
several other potential detachment layers exist in the
Jurassic (Adaiyah, Alan and Gotnia evaporites).
Several younger layers (Albian Kazhdumi and Eocene
Pabdeh marls) may also have acted as local
detachment layers according to a regional north-south
balanced cross-section (Fig. 14) extending from the
Binak field in the SW part of the Dezful Embayment
to Kuh-e Dinar in the High Zagros Thrusted Zone
(Sherkati and Letouzeh, 2004). An interesting example
of the Kazhdumi Formation acting as a detachment is
provided by the Mokhtar-1 well, drilled in 1992 by
NIOC, in the High Zagros close to Yasuj. The well
penetrated a sole-thrust at the base of the Kazhdumi
Formation, then drilled a decoupled structural unit,
where gas was found in the Daryian and Fahliyan
Formations (Bosold et al., 2005). Another example
comes from the Sequtah-1 well, located immediately
NW of the Kuh-e Dinar High Zagros thrust. At this
well location, a repeated, overturned section of
unusually thick Pabdeh Formation suggests a
detachment surface at the Pabdeh level (Bosold et al.
ibid.). It is interesting to note that in these two
examples, the detachment surface corresponds to an
organic-rich interval. The organic content may
increase the plasticity of the Kazhdumi and Pabdeh
The anticlines were formed by parallel folding that
resulted from a combination of predominantly flexural

slip and neutral surface folding (Colman-Sadd, 1978).

However, local detachment levels separate structural
units which accommodate the shortening in different
ways (Sherkati and Letouzeh, 2004). At the top of
most of the high-relief anticlines, the Asmari limestone
displays normal faults or small extensional grabens
(McQuillan, 1973 and 1974). Extensional conditions
also caused intense fracturing (Fig. 15) with the
development of structure-related tension fracture
sets (McQuillan, ibid.). In parallel neutral surface
folding, fractures theoretically extend down to the
plane of no strain which limits the extensional zone
above from the compressional zone below.
Surface observations made by M.L.B. in Fars,
Lurestan and NE Khuzestan Mountain Front indicate
that the fractures generally extend at least down to
the Sarvak Formation. Thus, the Asmari and Sarvak
limestones, as well as the thick Pabdeh-Gurpi marls
are fractured. A similar conclusion has been reached
from our obserevations of numerous cores taken
from exploration and production wells.
Some aspects of the tectonic history of the Zagros
Foldbelt such as subsidence, chronology of trap
formation, and fracturing are critical to the maturation
of source rocks, the expulsion and entrapment of oil,
and obviously to geochemical modelling.
1. Subsidence
Subsidence in the present-day Zagros Foldbelt and in
the Gulf Iranian waters remained moderate for some
260Ma, from the Permian transgression (280Ma) to
the end of Asmari deposition (20Ma), if we exclude
the previously-discussed short-lived episode of rapid
subsidence during deposition of the Sarvak Formation.
During this long period, the average apparent
subsidence rate varied little, around 20m/Ma (17 to
20m/Ma in the province of Fars, and 20/23 m/Ma in
both the Dezful Embayment and Lurestan). However,
subsidence then increased dramatically between 20
and 3Ma, averaging as much as 350m/Ma. In
consequence, oil generation only occurred very
recently (Ala, 1982). At the end of the deposition of
the Mishan Formation (12.5Ma), the oil expulsion
window of the Kazhdumi source rocks had not yet
been reached in most of the Dezful Embayment,
except perhaps in the area around the Paris and Karanj
Another important consequence of this long period
of stability, with relatively low and constant
subsidence, is that the heat flow may be assumed to
be constant. This assumption was used for modelling

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre

Fig. 14 (a) SW-NE trending balanced cross-section through the SE part of the Dezful Embayment, from Kuh-e Dinar to Binak (after Sherkati and Letouzey, 2004).
This illustrates decoupling of the cover from the basement at the level of the Late Proterozoic Hormuz salt which acts as the main detachment plane. In areas
where the Hormuz salt is absent (if any), Cambrian shales may act as the detachment; other possible detachments include the Triassic Dashtak evaporites. The
basement is assumed to be involved in the deformation as suggested by the depth of the seismic activity some 8 to 12 km below the detachment (location of the
cross-section is indicated in Fig. 2). (b) asymmetric folds caused by shearing in a detachment zone (after Colman-Sadd, 1978). Arrows show the relative
movement, and upward and downward displacement in anticlines and synclines. Potential faulting is omitted.



Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

Fig. 15. Parallel folds developed by (i) flexural slip and (ii) neutral-surface folding (after Colman-Sadd, 1978);
(iii) formation of fractures observed at Kuh-e Asmari (after McQuillan, 1974).

2. Age-dating of the Zagros folding

As previously noted, the last accurately dated
undisturbed sediments on the NE margin of the
Arabian Platform are dated as Burdigalian (16 to 20
Ma). The thrusting of the Kuh-e Garun and Khounsar
nappes is younger than 16Ma. According to seismic
information and surface observations, folding in the
Dezful Embayment would have commenced during
the deposition of the Agha Jari Formation. Folding
commenced near the Khuzestan Mountain Front,
immediately after the deposition of the Mishan
Formation, 12.5 Ma ago, and slightly before the
beginning of the deposition of the Labhari Member
west of Gachsaran, around perhaps 6 or 7 Ma ago. In
Lurestan, the main phase of folding of the Samand
and Changuleh anticlines began during the Tortonian,
between 8.1 and 7.2 Ma, after the deposition of 1,200

m thick Agha Jari fluvial deposits, and continuing

for some 5Ma, according to the results of
magnetostratigraphic studies (Homke et al., 2004;
Verges et al., 2005). The structural growth continued
during a longer period, although at an extremely low
rate, as shown by the gentle folding of the Bakhtiari
conglomerates in synclinal areas, and by the thrusting
of Mesozoic units over Plio-Pleistocene lacustrine
marls in the High Zagros. The structures are
progressively younger from NE to SW, as shown by
Hessami et al., 2001
3. Fracturing
Extensive fracturing developed in high-relief
anticlines. This probably explains why the Asmari and
Sarvak reservoirs have some degree of connection in
most of the Dezful Embayments major oil- and

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre

gasfields. This varies from complete interconnection

with the same oil-water contact, as in the Agha Jari,
Bibi Hakimeh, Gachsaran, Pazanan and Rag-e Sefid
fields; to partial connection, in which the lighter
fractions of oil and gas have moved with difficulty
through a poorly-developed fracture network (e.g. at
By contrast, no fracturing is observed in some lowrelief, deeply-buried anticlines, and the Asmari and
Sarvak reservoirs appear to be independent of each
other (e.g. Ab-e Teymur or Mansuri). In the absence
of fracturing, oil generated by the Kazhdumi would
remain trapped in the Sarvak Formation, while oil
originating from the Pabdeh would accumulate in the
Asmari Formation.
Fracturing has permitted the subvertical migration
of Kazhdumi-generated oil to the Asmari reservoir,
which is sealed by the Gachsaran evaporites. It is also
probable that fracturing of the Kazhdumi marls
facilitated oil expulsion within high-relief anticlines,
although not in synclinal areas. This absence of
fracturing in synclinal areas, and the resulting
difficulty for the expulsion of oil, may partly explain
why the volume of oil calculated by modelling is
always lower than the oil found in the reservoirs as
Initial Oil in Place (IOIP).
4. Absence of Fars Group material
in the Bakhtiari conglomerates
It is interesting to note that the Bakhtiari
conglomerates do not contain any identifiable pebbles
from the Fars Group (Gachsaran, Mishan and Agha
Jari Formations), but do contain rounded pebbles and
cobbles of Oligocene, Eocene and Cretaceous
limestones and cherts (James and Wynd, 1965). This
proves that the Bakhtiari conglomerates were not
formed by the erosion of the higher parts of the
growing anticlines with short distance transportation.
Instead, they were formed by the erosion of the High
Zagros, NE of the Khuzestan Mountain Front, which
was already uplifted and folded. This is consistent with
the field observation of offlap structures in the Agha
Jari Formation, as mentioned above.
The absence of material originating from the
Gachsaran, Mishan and Agha Jari Formations in the
Bakhtiari conglomerates negates the assumption of
the erosion of a thick Fars Group succession, deposited
on the tops of growing Zagros structures in the Dezful
Embayment. The Agha Jari Formation is 3,300m thick
at well Bebehan-1, in the syncline between the
Gachsaran and Agha Jari-Pazanan anticlines; while it
is only between 700 and 1,200m thick at the top of
the Agha Jari and Pazanan anticlines. It is not present
at all at Gachsaran where the Mishan Formation
outcrops. The thinning of the Agha Jari Formation is
due to depositional pinch-out, rather than intense post-


depositional erosion. Both seismic and surface

observations as well as field data corroborate this
assumption. Evaluation of the erosion remains a
critical factor for modelling.
The assumption of relatively modest erosion is not
applicable, however, to the area located NE of the
Kuzhestan Mountain Front whence the Bakhtiari
material originated. For instance, at the Bangestan-1
well, erosion reached the top of the Dariyan Formation
(Aptian), and the thickness of the eroded section is
estimated to be almost 3,000m.
5. Determination of the
main modelling parameters
In order to determine an accurate thermal history,
different values of heat flow were tested. The actual
temperature profiles and the values calculated for each
burial profile were verified, taking into account that
bottom-hole temperature (BHT) data are often 10 to
15C lower than true temperatures obtained from long
term tests. Vitrinite profiles from three wells, Agha
Jari-123, Bangestan-1 and Paris-35 (Burwood, 1978)
were used for calibration (Fig.16a, b, c).
Kinetic parameters were determined by pyrolysis
using IFPs OPTKIN programme for immature
samples of the Kazhdumi and Pabdeh source rocks
(J. Espitali, pers. commun.). By using these kinetic
parameters, the Rock-Eval Tmax (Fig. 17a, b) and the
Hydrogen Indices (Fig.18a, b), from two wells,
Mansuri 1 and Paris 35, were calculated. A reasonable
fit was obtained for the measured temperature, vitrinite
and Tmax profiles using a constant heat flow of
In the example presented here for a well located on
the top of the Marun structure, the beginning of the
oil window (Transformation Ratio, TR=10%) was
dated as 15Ma (Fig. 19a) for the Kazhdumi source
rocks and 3Ma for the Pabdeh. The beginning of the
oil window occurred for the two source rocks when
they were buried to a depth of around 3,000m. The
expulsion window was reached 5Ma ago for the
Kazhdumi Formation and has not yet been reached
for the Pabdeh (Fig. 19b). The expulsion of oil from
the Kazhdumi Formation would have begun when the
Transformation Ratio reached 24%. The actual TR
would reach 56% and 17% for the Kazhdumi and the
Pabdeh, respectively (Figs. 20 and 21).
The same exercise was conducted for the deepest
part of the synclinal area bordering Marun to the NE,
where, according to seismic data, the Agha Jari
Formation (together with relatively thin Bakhtiari

Fig. 16. Correspondence between vitrinite reflectance measured in

selected wells and modelled values, using a 36 mW/m2 heatflow
(well locations in Fig. 2).

Fig. 17. Correspondence between Rock-Eval Tmax

measured in selected wells and modelled values, using a
36 mW/m2 heatflow (well locations in Fig. 2).


Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

Fig. 18. Correspondence between the Hydrogen Index measured

in selected wells and modelled values, using a 36 mW/m2 heatflow
(well locations in Fig. 2).

Fig. 19. Burial history profile indicating (a) the beginning of

oil generation and (b) the expulsion windows for a well
located close to the top of the Marun anticline (location of
the Marun field on Fig. 2).

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre


Fig. 20. Kazhdumi source rock at Marun field (well close to the top
of the anticline): (a) Variations in the Transformation Ratio (TR)
as a function of time; (b) The expulsion window.

Fig. 21. Pabdeh source rock at Marun field (well close to the top of the
anticline): (a) Variation of the Transformation Ratio (TR) as a function
of time; (b) The expulsion window.


Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

Fig. 22. Burial history profile for the deeper part of the Marun
syncline indicating: (a) The beginning of oil generation;
and (b) The expulsion window.

Fig. 23. Kazhdumi source rock in the deeper part of the Marun syncline:
(a) Variation of TR as a function of time; (b) The expulsion window.

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre



Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

Fig. 24. Pabdeh source rock in the deeper part of the Marun syncline: (a) Variation of TR as a function of time;
(b) The expulsion window.

conglomerates) is around 3,800m thick (Figs. 22a, b).

The beginning of the oil window for the Kazhdumi
Formation also occurred 15 Ma ago, which can be
expected as there was no difference in burial depth
before deposition of the Agha Jari Formation and
before the structural growth between a well located
on the top of the Marun field and another located in
the present-day deep syncline. Expulsion commenced
8Ma ago, almost synchronous with structural growth.
The actual TR is as high as 97% (Figs. 23a, b). At
that depth, the gas window was reached. For the
Pabdeh Formation, oil expulsion began 3.5Ma ago,
while the actual TR reached 66% (Figs. 24a, b).
For the Marun field (Fig. 25), oil expulsion from the
Kazhdumi Formation began 8Ma ago in the deeper
part of the synclinal area, while expulsion commenced
5Ma ago at the top of the anticline. Throughout the
Marun drainage area, oil expulsion occurred after
structural growth had already begun. The drainage
area concept can be applied, with almost vertical
migration routes enhanced by the fracturing of the

Bangestan to Asmari interval. Similar conclusions

were obtained for all the other fields in the Dezful
Embayment, for which oil expulsion began at the
earliest 8Ma ago in deeper synclinal areas but which
was in general more recent. The only exceptions are
the Karanj and Paris fields, where oil expulsion may
have commenced slightly before Zagros folding.
The geometry of the drainage area of each field
was deduced from seismic data. As pre-1978 seismic
data are of relatively poor quality at depth, the
geometry of the well-defined top-Asmari marker was
used in the absence of better data. Each drainage area
was cut into slices which were 1,000ft (304.8m) thick
(Fig. 25). A burial profile was reconstructed for each
slice, which permitted the calculation for each source
rock (the Kazhdumi and Pabdeh Formations) of the
actual Transformation Ratio (TR), and the amount of
oil generated and expelled.
The equation used to calculate the amount of oil
generated by a source rock for a drainage area, Qc,
Qc = h (TOC x HI) x rR x S x Si x TRi
h is the source rock thickness in the drainage area

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre


Fig. 25. Drainage area for the Marun field (location in Fig. 2) (after Bordenave and Nili, 1973).

TOC is the total organic carbon of the source rock

per unit weight of rock (%);
HI is the Hydrogen Index (kg HC/ton of C);
Si is the surface area of the slice, i (sq. km);
rR is the rocks specific gravity (2.5 t/m3); and
TRi is the Transformation Ration (%) calculated
by the model for the slice, i.
When expressed in units of barrels:
Qc = 19.65 x 103 x h (TOC x HI) x S x Si x TRi.
The volume expelled, QE, would be (in barrels):
QE = 19.65 x 103 h (TOC x HI) x S x Si x Expli.
where Expli is the expulsion coefficient or ratio
between the amount of oil expelled and the oil
As an example, the volumes of oil generated and
expelled were calculated for the Marun field from the
geometry of the drainage area and from the source
rock characteristics for this area. In the Marun
drainage area, the calculated volume of oil generated
by the Kazhdumi source rock amounted to 138 billion
(B) brl, of which 114B brl would have been expelled.
The Pabdeh Formation would have generated 21.4B
brl, of which only 6.7B brl would have been expelled.
The respective percentages in the Kazhdumi and
Pabdeh Formations, for the oil generated at Marun,
would be 85% and 15%. However, the Kazhdumi
expelled 95% of the total volume of oil and the Pabdeh
less than 5% (Table 2).
In terms of the isotopic composition of the Marun
oils, 13C = -26.8 0.5 for the oil trapped in the
Asmari, and 13C = -26.9 0.5 for the oil trapped
in the Sarvak, confirming its predominantly Kazhdumi
origin. This is consistent with 13C of the pyrolysate
of the Kazhdumi Formation (-26.5 to -27.9), and
not with that of the Pabdeh (-24.6 to -25.9). The

absence of 18( )H-oleanane in the Marun oil confirms

the minor contribution made by the Pabdeh.
In the Marun field, the initial amount of oil (and
equivalent gas) in-place trapped in the Asmari
reservoir connected with the Bangestan corresponds
to roughly 50% of the calculated amount of oil (and
equivalent gas) expelled from the Kazhdumi and
Pabdeh source rocks in the drainage area, as defined by
seismic data. This calculation is inaccurate, however, as
the geometry of the Kazhdumi source rocks cannot be
deduced by a simple translation from those of the Asmari
marker which was used as a reference.
A detailed discussion of these results is beyond the
scope of this paper. The problem is more complex, as
the Marun field may have received some oil from the
Ramin field which is located down-dip on the same trend.
It is also possible that Maruns area of drainage may
extend to the NE, below the thrusted Agha Jari field.
Similar calculations were conducted for all the fields in
the Dezful Embayment. As a general rule, less than 20%
of the oil that has been expelled from the source rocks,
according to the results of the model, was actually found
in the fields as initial oil (and gas equivalent) in-place.
In the Dezful Embayment, a prolific petroleum system
includes two excellent source rocks, the Albian
Kazhdumi and Middle Eocene to Oligocene Pabdeh
Formations. These source rocks charged two
outstanding reservoir units, the Asmari (Oligocene Early Miocene) and the Bangestan (mostly
Cenomanian) Formations. The Asmari is sealed by
the evaporitic Gachsaran Formation (Early Miocene).
This Middle Cretaceous to Early Miocene Petroleum
System is separated from two older petroleum systems


Tectonic controls on oil entrapment, Dezful Embayment, Zagros foldbelt, Iran

Table 2. Estimate of the amount of oil generated and expelled from the Kazhdumi and Pabdeh source rocks in
the Marun drainage area (GENEX program). The area was cut into 1000ft thick slices (see Fig. 25). So is the
surface of the slice between the top of the anticline at the Kazhdumi level depth of Z, and Z+1000 ; S1 the
surface of the slice between Z+1000 and Z+2000, etc. TR is the transformation ratio for the Kazhdumi
calculated for each slice. Qc and Qe are the calculated amounts of oil/gas generated and expelled by the
Kazhdumi for each slice (expressed in cubic metres). Total Qe and Qc are also expressed in barrels to allow a
comparison with the initial oil-in-place for the Marun field. The same calculation is made for the Pabdeh
source rocks.

(Palaeozoic, and Jurassic) by thick evaporitic seals.

Carbon isotope ratios of the oil present in the Asmari
and Bangestan Formations in the Dezful Embayment
fields, and the ratios of pyrolysates of the Silurian
and the Sargelu source rocks, indicate that these
systems are independent. The Garau Formation
(Neocomian) probably charged limited reservoirs
included in the Khami Formation (Early Cretaceous),
but the oil-in-place discovered in these reservoirs
accounts for less than 2% of the IOIP discovered in
the Dezful Embayment. It is assumed that the oil that
originated from the Garau source rocks could not have
crossed the Kazhdumi marls in the areas where they
have a high organic content, due to their high pore
pressure. Consequently, in these areas, oil originating
from the Garau Formation could not have charged the
Bangestan and Asmari reservoirs. Locally, in the SE
part of the Dezful Embayment and in the northern
part of the Gulf, some additional oil was expelled from
the locally euxinic Ahmadi Member of the Sarvak

Formation which supplemented that expelled from the

Kazhdumi Formation.
Reviewing the tectonic history of the Dezful
Embayment, the following points are important for
understanding the maturation, migration and
entrapment of oil in the Middle Cretaceous to Early
Miocene Petroleum System:
(i) North-south oriented fault blocks were formed
during the Late Silurian and Carboniferous
extensional phases. The Hercynian fault network
controlled the distribution of Hormuz salt-related
trends, elongated north-south highs, and domes.
Moreover, the Hercynian faults were reactivated
during the Cenomanian/Turonian, and again later
during the Late Miocene/Pliocene. These highs
influenced the environments of deposition, both for
source rocks and for reservoir rocks.
(ii) The Arabian Platform was stable, with low and
almost constant subsidence, from the Permian
transgression, some 280 Ma ago, to the Early Miocene,

M. L. Bordenave and J. A. Hegre

20 Ma ago, with only a brief episode of instability at

the end of the Cenomanian. Important regional events,
such as the pull-apart between the Central Iran Block
and the Arabian Platform during the Triassic, or the
uplift of the Radiolarite Trough and its obduction on
the Platform during the Coniacian/Campanian, did not
significantly affect the stability and the subsidence of
the Platform. As a consequence of the Platforms long
period of stability, a constant heat flow can be assumed
for modelling purposes.
(iii) At the NE margin of the Platform, undisturbed
sediments, unaffected by the Zagros Folding, have
been dated as Burdigalian (16-20 Ma). The first
material originating from the Metamorphic SanandajSirjan Block is younger than Burdigalian. However,
there is evidence for an early phase of folding, dated
as Late Eocene to Oligocene, in the NE of the
Platform. There, the upper part of the Pabdeh marls
is locally eroded at the tops of anticlines and are
overlain with angular unconformity by the Asmari
limestone. Moreover, monomict conglomeratic facies
are locally observed towards the top of the Asmari
and in the Rezak Formations.
The deformation front which marks the limit of
folding of the Zagros anticlines migrated in discrete
pulses from the NE to the SW. In both the Dezful
Embayment and in SW Fars, the Mishan Formation
does not show any evidence of folding, and its
isopachs vary regionally. The deformation front
reached the NE part of the Dezful Embayment at the
very beginning of the Late Miocene, as demonstrated
by angular unconformities between the Mishan and
the Agha Jari Formations. Offlaps observed in the
Agha Jari Formation confirm that the progressive
folding of the anticlines is synchronous with its
deposition. South of the Gachsaran field, the
paroxysmal phase of folding corresponds with the
deposition of the Labhari Member, probably during
the end of the Late Miocene and during the Pliocene.
Anticlines located in the SW part of the Dezful
Embayment such as Ab-e Teymur or Mansuri were
formed later, during the Pliocene, perhaps between 5
and 3 Ma ago.
(iv) Fracturing resulting from regional extension,
which can be observed in the crestal parts of highrelief anticlines, facilitated the vertical migration of
oil towards the Bangestan Formation and eventually
to the Asmari Formation which is capped by the
Gachsaran evaporites. Fracturing is almost absent in
low-relief anticlines, where the Bangestan and Asmari
reservoirs remained independent. It is likely that this
fracturing also facilitated the expulsion of oil from
source rocks in anticlinal areas, while the expulsion
process was made more difficult in synclinal areas.
(v) In the conglomerates of the Bakhtiari
Formation, the absence of material originating in the


Fars Group negates the possibility of deposition of a

thick Agha Jari Formation on the crestal part of
growing anticlines followed by intense erosion. It
favours the pinch-out of the Agha Jari Formation on
the growing structures. This assumption was used in
the evaluation of the eroded section during modelling.
The timing of oil and gas generation and expulsion
was calculated through modelling by using burial
profiles and kinetic parameters calculated for each of
the two main source rocks. Heat flow assumptions
that give a reasonable fit between observed values of
the vitrinite reflectance profiles, source rock RockEval parameters, such as Tmax and Hydrogen Indices,
and values calculated by the model, were used in this
exercise. It was found that in most of the deeper
synclines surrounding the major Dezful Embayment
fields, oil was expelled from source rocks between
8Ma and 3Ma, after the Zagros folds began to form.
As a consequence of this relative timing between
oil expulsion and the growth of structures, the drainage
area concept can be used for modelling. Seismic data
permit the definition of a drainage area around each
anticline. Therefore, petroleum expelled from source
rocks in the drainage area migrated almost vertically
towards the anticline where it was ultimately trapped.
Accordingly, the amount of oil expelled from each
source rock can be estimated and compared with the
oil-in-place actually trapped in the anticline.
Modelling can be used as a provisional tool for
undrilled anticlines, provided the geometry of their
area of drainage can be determined with sufficient
accuracy from seismic data, and if source rock
characteristics can be extrapolated from nearby wells.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the JPG referees,
K. W. Glennie and H. Koyi, for their constructive
suggestions and advice which helped us to improve
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