A New Look at the Middle to Lower
Cretaceous Stratigraphy, Offshore Kuwait
Mark Bouman and
Shell International Exploration and Production B.V.
exploration in Kuwait commenced in 1961 with the award of a 5,600
square kilometre offshore concession to Shell. Some 6,300 kilometres of
3-fold analogue seismic were acquired in 1961, and 3 wells were drilled
during 1962 and 1963. In the same period, Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) also
drilled their first 3 offshore exploration wells. In 1981, KOC embarked
upon a second offshore exploration campaign, acquiring some 6,000
kilometres of seismic data and, during 1983 and 1984, drilling two
wells. None of these wells was a commercial discovery.
Between 1995 and
1997, an integrated team of KOC and Shell explorers undertook a review
of the hydrocarbon potential of Offshore Kuwait. In order to establish
an integrated sequence-stratigraphical framework for the prospective
Lower to Middle Cretaceous interval, a quantitative biostratigraphical
study was made. Some 790 biostratigraphical analyses (10% core samples;
90% cuttings) from eleven wells were carried out: the nanno-fossil data
was particularly important in providing accurate chronostratigraphical
calibration, and this data has been used to constrain a “Time- Rock
lithostratigraphical nomenclature proved to be basically sound and has
been maintained as the basis for the present stratigraphical framework.
However, the study revealed the existence of two substantial and
hitherto unsuspected hiati: one between the Ratawi and Zubair
formations of Early Valanginian to Mid-Hauterivian age; and the other,
representing the whole of the Early Albian, within the Burgan
Formation. This latter result, if it can be further substantiated by
more exhaustive study in the onshore area, would neccessitate a
re-definition of the Burgan Formation and the erection of a new
formation to describe the clastic sequence of Late Aptian age which
lies between the Early Albian hiatus and the top of the Shu’aiba
Formation, and which has hitherto been included within the Lower Burgan
On 27 September,
1995, a Joint-Study Agreement was signed between Shell International
Exploration and Production B.V. and Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) whereby an
integrated team of Shell and KOC geologists and geophysicists was
established in The Hague (The Netherlands) to undertake a review of the
hydrocarbon potential of Offshore Kuwait, including Kuwait Bay and
Bubiyan Island (Figure 1).
The results of
the Study regarding plays and prospectivity of the Offshore area are
still deemed to be confidential by both parties and so will not be
discussed here. This paper, however, presents the results of one aspect
of the work, on the Cretaceous Stratigraphy of Offshore Kuwait, which
has no confidentiality implications and which, it is hoped, may be of
interest to the wider community.
Prior to the
discussion of the details of the work, overviews of the history of
exploration of Offshore Kuwait, and of the tectono-stratigraphic
evolution of Kuwait through the Cretaceous, will be presented.
international sub-division of the Cretaceous comprises of an Upper and
Lower Cretaceous, with the boundary being at the top of the Albian.
However, in the Middle East a three-fold Cretaceous
traditionally been used (Christian, 1997), with boundaries at the top
of the Aptian and at the top of the Turonian, respectively. This
practice reflects, far more usefully, the tectonostratigraphic
evolution of the area, and is maintained in this account.
A brief history
of onshore exploration and an overview of the geology and oil fields of
onshore Kuwait is most recently provided by Carman (1996), whilst
detailed accounts of the Burgan and Raudhatain fields are presented by
Brennan (1990a, b). The first, and arguably still the best, discussion
of the Tertiary and Cretaceous stratigraphy of Kuwait was provided by
Owen and Nasr (1958). Yousif and Nouman (1997) provide the latest
overview of the Jurassic stratigraphy of Kuwait, whilst Khan (1989)
reviews the Permo-Triassic stratigraphy. An excellent list of
additional references is provided by Carman (1996).
exploration in the Northern Gulf commenced in the mid-1950s in the
Partitioned Neutral Zone of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and the first
offshore oil field was discovered in 1958 (Khafji: the northern
continuation of Saudi Aramco’s Safaniya field). Possibly prompted by
this and by the IPAC consortium’s exploratory activity in Iranian
waters, offshore exploration in Kuwait commenced in 1961 with the award
of a 5,600 square kilometre (sq km) offshore concession to Shell, of
which the eastern part of the area was effectively ‘off-limits’ due to
boundary disputes between Kuwait, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.
In 1961 Shell
shot 6,300 km of 3-fold analogue seismic, from which it became apparent
that the ‘open’ part of the concession comprised a gentle,
north-easterly-dipping monocline, and the only three
could be identified were of very low relief, with mapped closures of
less than 35 metres (m). These were drilled between 1962 and 1963. The
least discouraging results were obtained from the first well drilled,
which tested at an initial rate of 720 barrels of oil per day (bopd) of
38°-40° API oil from Lower Cretaceous Ratawi limestones. Unfortunately,
production declined to only 103 bopd after 5 days. Only minor oil and
gas shows were noted in the other two wells. All three wells were
abandoned. In the same 1962-63 period, KOC also drilled their first
offshore exploration wells, in the Bubiyan Island-Kuwait Bay area.
In 1981, the
then-nationalised KOC embarked upon a second offshore and shallow-water
exploration campaign, acquiring some 6,000 km of seismic data. The new
seismic data was interpreted in the light of the results of the three
Shell wells, and a detailed review was made of the stratigraphy and
hydrocarbon potential of Offshore Kuwait (Al-Kandari, 1981). Between
1983 and 1984, KOC drilled two wells: the first, a follow-up of the
Shell non-commercial discovery, was a dry hole with only shows of oil;
the second recovered a maximum of 420 bopd on test from the Minagish
OVERVIEW OF THE KUWAITI OFFSHORE AREA
As shown by the
geological cross-section and the seismic depth map (Figures 2 and 3),
the structure in Offshore Kuwait is dominated by a gentle regional dip
to the north-east with no significant structuration intervening between
the Burgan Arch to the west, and the Khafji-Nowruz Arch to the east.
Consequently, all the offshore wells to date have been drilled on very
low relief structures.
prominent offshore feature is the north-northeast-trending
Khafji-Nowruz Arch, located in the extreme east of the Kuwaiti
Offshore. The structure plunges gently to the north-northeast; is
asymmetric with a steeper western flank; and, in common with the Burgan
Arch, the upper part of the Middle Cretaceous sequence appears to be
truncated below the Base Upper Cretaceous Unconformity over the
structure. Structural growth is also apparent during Neogene times.
THE CRETACEOUS: AN OVERVIEW
history and stratigraphic succession of Kuwait has been determined by
its location on the north-eastern margin of the Afro-Arabian Plate, and
by the motions and stresses (near and far-
field) to which
that plate has been subject throughout its evolution. Hence this
overview will attempt to place the key elements of Kuwait’s Cretaceous
history in a global plate-tectonic context, as illustrated in Figures 4
At the beginning
of Cretaceous times, Kuwait was located just north of the Equator, and
the large scale basin configuration had just changed from one of a
differentiated passive-margin of shallow shelves and deeper,
intra-shelf basins which characterized the Jurassic (Murris, 1980) to
that of a very low relief passive-margin ramp setting, with the stable
Arabian shelf passing northeastwards into the deeper water realm of the
Mesopotamian-Northern Gulf Basin. Although the location of the
shelf-to-basin transition oscillated through time with successive
eustatic sea-level changes, the overall ramp architecture remained
little changed in Offshore Kuwait throughout the Cretaceous.
its equatorial location throughout the Cretaceous, and the low-relief
nature of the Arabian margin, the Cretaceous succession in Offshore
Kuwait is dominated by carbonates, generally mud-supported (Figure 6).
However, around 130 million years before present (Ma), the opening of
the South Atlantic, and then, some 25 Ma later, the opening of the
Central Atlantic Ocean, induced a major change in plate motion
direction (Figure 4) with consequent impact, through far-field
stresses, on the Afro-Arabian Plate. Uplift of the cratonic hinterland
of Arabia resulted in the flooding of the passive margin with extensive
tongues of deltaic, shallow-marine sands, forming the Zubair and Burgan
reservoirs, of Barremian-Early Aptian and Mid-Late Albian age,
respectively. Reduced clastic influx,
rising sea-level, resulted in the re-establishment in Offshore Kuwait
of cyclic carbonateshale deposition through the balance of the Middle
90 Ma, there occurred a pause in the steady northwards progress of
Kuwait, which reflects the onset of ophiolite obduction and nappe
emplacement at the leading edge of the Arabian Plate, the site of the
present-day Zagros Suture. In Kuwait, this deformation reactivated
older structural features, and generated the Base Upper Cretaceous
Unconformity, which downcuts progressively towards the west and south,
causing significant thinning and loss of section of the Middle
Cretaceous over the major anticlines of coastal Kuwait. Growth, though
more subdued, of these major structures continued throughout the Upper
Cretaceous, which in Kuwait developed in a dominantly carbonate shelf
setting, whilst to the east, in the Mesopotamian-Northern Gulf Basin, a
marl and shale-dominated foredeep developed.
effectiveness of far-field stresses as a mechanism for generating
tectono-stratigraphic responses over large areas of craton is
illustrated by a comparison between Arabia and Central Africa. Guiraud
and Maurin (1992) describe two phases of intra-cratonic rifting from
Central Africa which appear to be co-eval with the Zubair and Burgan
sand influxes of Arabia, and with the two-phase opening of the
Atlantic. In the reverse direction, the Santonian obduction event on
the Arabian margin is co-eval with the inversion of many of the
Cretaceous rifts in Central Africa (Guiraud and Maurin, 1992).
quiesence and shallow-water carbonate deposition characterized the
Paleogene of Kuwait. The onset, in Lower Miocene times, of the Zagros
Orogeny, representing the final collision of Arabia and Eurasia caused
uplift and erosion in Kuwait, represented by the Top Dammam
Unconformity which shows truncation and gentle arching over most of the
major oil fields, whilst the succeeding development and infill of the
Zagros foredeep generated the regional north-easterly dip which is such
a feature of the Offshore area today (Figure 7).
OF THE LOWER-MIDDLE CRETACEOUS SEQUENCE
Given the low
relief, monoclinal nature of much of Offshore Kuwait, it was felt that
stratigraphic trapping would provide the only possibility of
significant hydrocarbon entrapment within the Lower- Middle Cretaceous
reservoirs (prolific producers in the Onshore fields). In order to
explore for stratigraphic traps, a high-resolution
sequence-stratigraphic framework is essential, building on quantitative
biostratigraphical data in order to provide as detailed a
chronostratigraphical and paleoenvironmental calibration of this
sequence as possible.
Over 500 samples
were collected from eleven wells (highlighted in orange in Figure 1):
most of these samples were split, and a total of some 790
biostratigraphic analyses were made, by Robertson Research
International Ltd. (foraminifera), and Varol Research (nannoplankton).
Approximately 90% of the samples analyzed were cuttings. Previous
analyses commissioned by KOC on ostracod distribution were re-evaluated
by Lacustrine Basin Research (LBR).
This study is
the first to utilize nannoplankton analysis on Kuwait samples, and the
data so obtained were crucial in providing accurate
chronostratigraphical calibration, far more than would have been
obtained from the microfaunal data alone. A zonation scheme specific to
Offshore Kuwait has been developed (Figure 8). It utilizes a
combination of global markers and local nanno-fossil events which are
consistently recognizable in the wells studied (Varol, 1996).
The quantitative biostratigraphic data was plotted on a well-by-well
basis and a well log and seismic correlation framework established
(Figure 9). From this it was apparent that the parallel reflection
geometry seen on the seismic data concealed no significant
diachronicity in the investigated sequence, and that KOC’s
lithostratigraphical nomenclature was sound. Hence it was retained as
the basis for the Offshore stratigraphical framework. A new Time-Rock
Synopsis (Figure 10) was constructed. The parallel nature of the
formation boundaries reflects the lack of diachronicity and the
parallel nature of the seismic reflections across the area.
Plotting of the
biostratigraphic and well-data revealed the presence of two major
disconformities/ hiati, with no data representing the Late
Valanginian-Early Hauterivian, or Latest Aptian-Early Albian being
recorded. It was also apparent that the age and stratigraphic position
of these gaps may have been incorrectly identified in the past, namely:
(1) that the
regionally-identified Aptian-Albian disconformity does not occur at the
Burgan-Shu’aiba contact, but within the lower part of the Burgan
Formation, and that the basal shales of the Burgan Formation lie below
this hiatus, and are of Late Aptian age. The age control on the Lower
Burgan sands is poor, and the hiatus is assumed to lie just below the
incoming of the massive Burgan Fourth sands. The presence of a major
hiatus at this time is attributed to the significant change in plate
motion that affected Arabia at ~110 Ma (Figure 4).
(2) that the
disconformity separating the Zubair and Ratawi formations is of Early
Valanginian-Early Hauterivian age, and not co-incident with the
Hauterivian-Barremian boundary as previously suggested. A hiatus of
similar age is reported from southwest Iran by Shakib (in Simmons,
1994), and corresponds to a major global eustatic sea-level lowstand.
the Lower Cretaceous Stratigraphy
Cretaceous sequence of Kuwait ranges in thickness from 3,800 ft to
4,400 ft (Figure 11), becoming thicker to the north-northeast as the
Mesopotamian trough is approached. The sequence can be sub-divided into
two cycles: Makhul, Minagish and Ratawi Formations The sequence
comprises a relatively featureless succession of mud-supported
limestones and interbedded shales.
Formation is composed of dense grey-dark grey limestones and
interbedded dark grey shales and averages 450 ft in thickness in the
Offshore area. The succeeding Minagish Formation ranges in thickness
from 800 ft in the south of the area to 1,200 ft in the north and
comprises a sequence of grey argillaceous lime mud-wackestones with
interbedded green-grey calcareous shales. The oolitic grainstones that
characterize this formation in Onshore Kuwait have not been encountered
in the Offshore. The Ratawi Formation is divided into two members, the
Lower Ratawi Limestone and the Upper Ratawi Shale, reflecting the
proportion of lime mud-wackestone and calcareous shales and marls in
each unit, which average about 500 feet in thickness.
of deposition based on ostracod analysis is overall inner shelf (i.e.
low tide down to ~40 m) with a conjectural 20-50 m water-depth towards
the north (Lacustrine Basin Research, 1996).
The age of the
sequence is ?latest Tithonian to Early Valanginian (Varol Research,
Shu’aiba and “Unnamed Clastics”
global sea-level prevailed during Late Hauterivian to Late Aptian but
despite this, uplift of the Arabo-Nubian craton resulted in the influx
of the Zubair delta from the west, inundating the entire
with an interbedded sequence of sands (fine-very fine grained) and
shales. The sequence thins from ~1,350 ft to less than 1,000 ft, and
the sand percentage decreases, in a northeasterly direction, from 50%
near the southern coast to ~20% in the vicinity of Bubiyan Island
indicate that the Zubair Formation was deposited on a broad, relatively
shallow continental shelf with average water depths between 20 and 40
metres (Lacustrine Basin Research, 1996). Nannoplankton ages for the
Zubair range from Late Hauterivian to Early Aptian.
Formation (Early-Late Aptian in age) marked a temporary return to
shallow marine carbonate deposition, and it comprises a light
grey-buff, lime wackestone, which is frequently fractured, locally
vuggy (and hence a frequent lost circulation zone) and averages 300 ft
At the close of
Shu’aiba times, clastic sedimentation resumed through to the end of the
Aptian. This shale sequence is considered to conformably overlie the
Shuaiba (as observed by Owen and Nasr, 1958), and has hitherto been
referred to the lowermost part of the Burgan Formation. As a result of
this study, however, a major hiatus or disconformity has been
identified seperating these shales from the rest of the Burgan
Formation, and hence it is felt that a new formation name is required
(the informal term ‘Unnamed Clastics Formation’ has been used in Study
Team reports). This interval ranges in thickness from ~80 ft in Burgan
field, to some 300 ft in the east of the Offshore (Figure 12), and was
deposited in an open marine inner neritic environment (Robertson
Research, 1996). The easternmost offshore well has been selected as the
proposed type log for the ‘Unnamed Clastics’, which were encountered
between 10,245 ft and 10,560 ft (depths below derrick floor) (Figure
the Middle Cretaceous Stratigraphy
Middle Cretaceous, global sea level rose to its highest level in
Mesozoic-Cenozoic history, reaching a maximum during the
Cenomanian/Turonian. However, across the entire Arabian passive margin,
a renewed clastic influx occurred, spreading clastics across large
parts of the basin. Two sedimentation cycles can generally be
recognised during this period, both ranging from clastics at the base
to carbonates at the top. In Offshore Kuwait the lower cycle (Burgan
and Mauddud formations) is readily distinguished. However the upper
cycle (Wara, Ahmadi, Rumaila and Mishrif formations) in the offshore
consists essentially of carbonates and shales only. The isopach of the
Middle Cretaceous sequence (Figure 14) increases from 1,600 ft to 2,800
ft, though the ‘thin’ over the Burgan Arch is the result of erosion
below the base Upper Cretaceous unconformity.
deposition of the Zubair and Shu’aiba formations and the (as yet
unnamed) basal shale of the Burgan Formation, the Middle Cretaceous
commences with a newly-recognised hiatus of approximately six (to
possibly 11) million years duration. (Due to age dating problems within
the Burgan sandstones (only ditch cuttings were used) no firm
conclusions can yet be drawn regarding the precise duration of this
Uplift of the
cratonic source areas to the west caused a renewed influx of sands over
large parts of the basin in the early Middle Albian. The Burgan
Formation is characterised by thick deltaic sands in the west, thinning
somewhat to an average thickness of 1,100 ft in the Offshore (including
the basal shales). Towards the east the sand percentage diminishes but
not so dramatically as in the Zubair, such that a net-to-gross of ~45%
is still apparent in the easternmost well of Offshore Kuwait (Figure
14). Carbonates onlapped in a westerly direction and progressively
displaced the clastics westward into interior Kuwait, resulting in the
deposition of the Upper Albian Mauddud carbonates. The Mauddud
Formation shows a gradual overall thickening towards the east and
northeast, ranging from the depositional featheredge in the Minagish
area to some 425 ft in the Bubiyan area.
Rumaila and Mishrif Formations
deposition of the thick Albian Burgan-Mauddud sequence a number of
relatively shortduration carbonate-shale cycles comprise the balance of
the Middle Cretaceous.
depositional thickness of these intervals gradually increases towards
the northeast, but this pattern is highly modified by the
syn-depositional thinning, and end-Middle Cretaceous erosion, over the
Burgan and Khafji-Nowruz Arches, from which the Rumaila and the Mishrif
formations have been completely removed.
in the offshore area are relatively uniform and are characterised by
alternations of (“highstand”) carbonates (i.e. mainly wackestones) and
(“transgressive”) shales. Water depths based on ostracods consistently
range from ~20 m (shallow inner shelf) to a possible maximum of ~70 m
(middle shelf) during deposition of the Ahmadi shale (Lacustrine Basin
Research, 1996). CONCLUSIONS The principal conclusions from this study
are as follows:
• There is no
significant diachronicity apparent in the Lower and Middle Cretaceous
sequences across Offshore Kuwait. The layer-cake appearance of the
Time-Rock Synopsis mirrors the parallel nature of the seismic
reflectors across the area.
• Nanno-fossils have the potential to provide a far more detailed
sub-division of the Cretaceous of Kuwait than has hitherto been
• A significant hiatus or disconformity is present across the
Aptian-Albian boundary, but it is thought to lie, not at the
Shu’aiba-Burgan contact, but within the Burgan at the contact of the
basal shales (now thought to be of Late Aptian age) with the base of
the Burgan Main or Fourth sand (of ?Mid-Albian age).
• A second major hiatus or disconformity is thought to lie at the
contact of the Ratawi Shale (now thought to be no younger than Early
Valanginian) with the base of the Zubair Formation (of Late Hauterivian
The majority of
the samples studied were cuttings, and hence the above results should
be regarded as provisional or indicative until they can be
substantiated by more detailed examinations based on cores and sidewall
samples. If the assignment of the basal Burgan shales to the Late
Aptian as indicated here can be substantiated by more detailed work,
then it is recommended that this sequence be elevated to formation
status and a formal name, preferably local, be assigned.
The authors wish
to thank Kuwait Oil Company and Shell International for permission to
publish the results of this study. The authors also wish to thank the
anonymous reviewers and Gulf PetroLink staff for redrafting some of the
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at 3rd Middle East Geosciences Conference and Exhibition, GEO’98,
Bahrain, 20-22 April, 1998 Manuscript received 23 June 1998 Revised
27October 1998 Accepted 5 November 1998
Al-Fares graduated from Kuwait University with a BSc degree in Geology
in 1992, and in the same year he joined Kuwait Oil Company as a
Wellsite Geologist. In 1994 Abdul Aziz was assigned to work as a
Geophysicist at KOC, and from November 1995 to December 1996 he was a
member of the KOC/ Shell Joint Study Team. He is currently working as a
3-D Seismic Interpreter.
gained a MSc in Stratigraphy from the University of Utrecht, and joined
Shell in 1982. Following assignments in Peru, London, and Cairo, he
returned to The Hague in 1995 and was Senior Stratigrapher in the
Kuwait Joint Study Team. Mark is currently Course Director for
Geosciences at the Shell Learning and Development Centre,
Noordwijkerhoud, in The Netherlands. His areas of expertise include
sequence stratigraphy, basin analysis, and stratigraphical computing.
Abdul Aziz Al-Fares graduated from Kuwait University with a BSc degree
in Geology in 1992, and in the same year he joined Kuwait Oil Company
as a Wellsite Geologist. In 1994 Abdul Aziz was assigned to work as a
Geophysicist at KOC, and from November 1995 to December 1996 he was a
member of the KOC/ Shell Joint Study Team. He is currently working as a
3-D Seismic Interpreter.
||Pete Jeans is
currently a Regional Business Advisor with Shell EP International
Ventures’ New Business Development Group. Prior to this, he was Senior
Geologist and then Project Leader of the Kuwait Joint Study Team. Pete
graduated with a PhD in Geology from Birmingham University in 1973, and
worked in Oman, Jakarta, Houston, and Brunei before returning to The
Hague in 1989. His particular interest is prospect and play generation.