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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

AAPG Special Volumes



Tectonic Evolution of the Outer High of Santos Basin, Southern Sao Paulo Plateau, Brazil, and Implications for Hydrocarbon Exploration

Paulo Otavio Gomes,1 Bill Kilsdonk,2 Tim Grow,3 Jon Minken,4 Roberto Barragan5

1Hess Brasil Petroleo Limitada, Praia de Botafogo 501, Torre Corcovado, 2deg andar, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (e-mail: [email protected])
2Hess Corporation, 1501 McKinney St., Houston, Texas, 77010, U.S.A. (e-mail: [email protected])
3Hess Corporation, 1501 McKinney St., Houston, Texas, 77010, U.S.A. (e-mail: [email protected])
4Hess Exploration Australia, 77 St. Georges Terr., Perth, 6600, Western Australia (e-mail:[email protected])
5Hess Exploration Malaysia, 207 Jalan Tun Razak, 50400, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (e-mail:[email protected])


This study was originally presented at the 2008 AAPG international conference. It was expanded to be included in this memoir, with well information, two-dimensional seismic data, and literature available as of the first quarter of 2010. The manuscript does not incorporate, however, the most recent information in the area from the active exploration effort that was conducted in Santos Basin since April 2010.

The authors thank Hess Corporation for the encouragement to prepare and submit this paper. We also thank our colleagues Scott Pluim, Peter Mullin, Thomas Melgaard, Tom West, Grant Crandall, Ryan Mann, Robert Handford, and John Hohman for their technical input and valuable discussions. The senior author thanks his former colleagues, Dr. Webster U. Mohriak, Joao A. Bach de Oliveira, Stefano Santoni, Jonathan Parry, and Wisley Martins, for their collaboration on previous studies in the same area. Finally, we thank the anonymous AAPG reviewers for their valuable feedback and suggestions, which greatly improved the manuscript. Seismic data on Figures 4, 5, 8, and 9 is used by kind permission of TGS-Nopec Geophysical Company. Potential field data on Figures 10 and 11 were used after authorization from GETECH company.


Multiple geologic elements combine in the presalt section of deep-water Santos Basin, forming a quite unique exploration play: prolific and mature source rocks are present, synrift structures include huge intrabasinal highs, and the overlying evaporite seal extends throughout most of the area. Significant uncertainties related to reservoir presence and deliverability, which still persist as the key risks on this emerging presalt play, have been progressively reduced throughout a continued drilling campaign, which started in 2006.

The most prominent and extensive intrabasinal high in the region is the Outer High of Santos Basin, a regional basement structure that forms a 12,000 km2 (4633 mi2) four-way closure at the Aptian level. The geologic history of the Outer High involves multiepisodic uplift and erosion of a series of rift fault-block shoulders during the Barremian. At that time, regional uplift resulted from a failed sea-floor spreading process that emplaced proto-oceanic crust in the southern Santos Basin. Concurrently, magmatic underplating is postulated as the mechanism responsible for locally thickening the crust and isostatically holding the Outer High as a present-day positive feature above its surroundings. Because of the extreme extension of the continental crust in Santos Basin, zones of deep crustal, or even upper mantle exhumation, are also expected near the transition from continental to oceanic crust.

Before continental breakup, the Outer High was roughly located 200 km (124 mi) away from both the African and Brazilian hinge lines. This distal setting, coupled with a positive relief, limited siliciclastic input from the margins. The presence of a long-lived paleohigh, in such a clastic-starved environment, favored the development of a broad carbonate platform, during the Lower Aptian. Tectonically controlled water-level fluctuations affected the evolving platform, serving an important function on reservoir facies development.

The Outer High has been the core region of a deep-water presalt exploration outbreak, after a pioneering drilling campaign that started around the middle of this decade. The hydrocarbon potential of this vast frontier area is yet to be fully unraveled.

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