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AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 87, No. 1 (January 2003),P. 143-180.

Copyright ©2003. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.

Petroleum geology and potential hydrocarbon plays in the Gulf of Suez rift basin, Egypt

A. S. Alsharhan1

1Faculty of Science, United Arab Emirates University, P.O. Box 17551, Al-Ain, United Arab Emirates; email: [email protected]


A. S. Alsharhan is professor of geology and dean of the Faculty of Science at the United Arab Emirates University. He holds a Ph.D. (1985) in petroleum geology from the University of South Carolina. He has authored and published more than 80 scientific articles. He coauthored Sedimentary Basins and Petroleum Geology of the Middle East (1997) with A. E. Nairn and Hydrogeology of an Arid Region: Arabian Gulf and Adjacent Areas (2001) with Z. Rizk, A. E. Nairn, D. Bakhit, and S. Al-Hajari. He co-edited Quaternary Deserts and Climate Change (1998) with K. W. Glennie, G. Whittle, and C. Kendall and Middle East Models of Jurassic/Cretaceous Carbonate Systems (2000) with R. W. Scott. His research interests include Holocene coastal sabkhas of the Arabian Gulf region and the geology and hydrocarbon habitats of the Middle East and North Africa. He is a member of the AAPG, SEPM, International Association of Sedimentologists, and Geological Society of London.


I would like to thank M. G. Salah, who sparked my enthusiasm for the fascinating geology of the Gulf of Suez rift basin and coauthored with me many of the articles on this subject. I also thank A. Fowler, who read the early draft of this article and offered valuable suggestions. Thanks go to P. E. Binns and R. P. Martinsons who reviewed this article for AAPG.


The Gulf of Suez in Egypt has a north-northwest-south-southeast orientation and is located at the junction of the African and Arabian plates where it separates the northeast African continent from the Sinai Peninsula. It has excellent hydrocarbon potential, with the prospective sedimentary basin area measuring approximately 19,000 km2, and it is considered as the most prolific oil province rift basin in Africa and the Middle East. This basin contains more than 80 oil fields, with reserves ranging from 1350 to less than 1 million bbl, in reservoirs of Precambrian to Quaternary age. The lithostratigraphic units in the Gulf of Suez can be subdivided into three megasequences: a prerift succession (pre-Miocene or Paleo zoic-Eocene), a synrift succession (Oligocene-Miocene), and a postrift succession (post-Miocene or Pliocene-Holocene). These units vary in lithology, thickness, areal distribution, depositional environment, and hydrocarbon importance. Geological and geo physical data show that the northern and central Gulf of Suez con sist of several narrow, elongated depositional troughs, whereas the southern part is dominated by a tilt-block terrane, containing nu merous offset linear highs.

Major prerift and synrift source rocks have potential to yield oil and/or gas and are mature enough in the deep kitchens to generate hydrocarbons. Geochemical parameters, sterane distribution, and biomarker correlations are consistent with oils generated from ma rine source rocks. Oils in the Gulf of Suez were sourced from po tential source rock intervals in the prerift succession that are typi cally oil prone (type I), and in places oil and gas prone (type II), or are composites of more than one type (multiple types I, II, or III for oil prone, oil and gas prone, or gas prone, respectively).

The reservoirs can be classified into prerift reservoirs, such as the Precambrian granitic rocks, Paleozoic-Cretaceous Nubian sand stones, Upper Cretaceous Nezzazat sandstones and the fractured Eocene Thebes limestone; and synrift reservoirs, such the Miocene sandstones and carbonates of the Nukhul, Rudeis, Kareem, and Be layim formations and the sandstones of South Gharib, Zeit, and post-Zeit. The majority of oil fields in the region incorporate multiple productive reservoirs. Miocene evaporites are the ultimate hydrocarbon seals, whereas the shale and dense limestones of the prerift and the synrift stratigraphic units are the primary seals. Structural, stratigraphic, and combination traps are encountered in the study area. The Gulf of Suez is the most prolific and prospective oil province in Egypt, and any open acreage, or relinquished area, will be of great interest to the oil industry.

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