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Section I Paper 43
U. S. A.

LIBYA: PETROLEUM GEOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT


B. B. Colley *

Abstract. Libya became an independent nation on Decem- Résumé. Le 24 décembre 1951 la Libye devint un état
ber 24, 1951. Reconnaissance petroleum exploration indépendant. Peu après commencèrent les travaux d’ex-
began not long afterward, and the first concessions were ploration de reconnaissance nécessaire à la recherche du
granted in 1955. The discovery of the Dahra and Zelten pétrole et c’est en 1955 que les premières concessions
fields in 1959 demonstrated Libya’s promising future and furent octroyées. La découverte des gisements de Dahra
by mid-1962, 51 oil discoveries had been made. The e t de Zelten ouvrirent la voie vers un avenir florissant.
future stature of Libya among the major oil-producing Au milieu de l’année 1962 on comptait cinquante et une
nations of the world now seems assured. découvertes. I I semble que la place future de la Libye
The Mediterranean foreland of the African continent parmi les nations productrices de pétrole les plus im-
has a history of strong tectonic activity as compared to portantes soit désormais assurée.
the stable interior. Ancestral Mediterranean (Tethyan) Dans le passé, l’activité tectonique de l’avant pays médi-
seas invaded the foreland many times so that the geologic terranéen du continent africain a été considérable en
column is nearly complete; however, separate basins comparaison avec celle de l’intérieur plus stable. Les
within this huge territory have different histories of sedi- mers qui ont précédé la Méditerranée (mers de Téthys)
mentation and reflect the paleogeographic and tectonic envahirent l’avant pays à plusieurs reprises, de sorte
complexity of the region. qu’une grande partie de la colonne géologique est repré-
Northern Libya can be divided into three major geologic sentée. Toutefois, chacun des bassins indépendants dans
provinces. From west to east these are: the “Ghadames cet immense territoire a eu une évolution sédimentaire
Basin”, the “Sirte Basin” and the “Cyrenaican Platform”. particulière et reflète ainsi la complexité paléogéogra-
Southern Libya includes two other provinces, the “Murzuk phique et tectonique de la région.
Basin” and the “Kufra Basin”. The main oil occurrences On peut diviser la Libye septentrionale en trois régions
to date have been in the Paleozoics of the Ghadames géologiques principales. D’Ouest en Est, soit: le Bassin de
Basin, and in the Cretaceous and Tertiary rocks of the Ghadamès, le Bassin desirte et la Plate-forme Cyrénaïque.
Sirte Basin. La Libye méridionale comprend deux autres régions: le
The development history and the geologic aspects of the Bassin de Murzuk et le Bassin de Kufra. Jusqu’à présent
country which are of interest to the oil industry are briefly l e pétrole se trouve surtout dans les couches paléozo-
discussed. ïques du Bassin de Ghadamès et dans les roches créta-
cées et tertiaires du Bassin de Sirte.
On donne un aperçu historique du développement et des
aspects géologiques du pays présentant un intérêt pour
l’industrie du pétrole.

Introduction this economic growth is also well known, but the


explicit details of particular interest to the oil indus-
The rapid economic development of the King- try have been quite another matter.
dom of Libya since the nation acquired its in- Knowledge of the subsurface geology of Libya had
dependence has been well publicized. Tbe import- to be acquired beginning from a state of profound
ant part that petroleum exploration has played in ignorance. As happens so regularly in the search for
* Colley, B. B. IU S A I Geologist I AB, Stanford University I Manager
oil, tremendous amounts of money and effort were
of Exploration, Oasis Oil Co. of Libya, Inc., Tripoli, Libya. required to gain that knowledge. Sand seas cover

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1
extensive portions of the desert nation and numer- half months after granting of concessions, the first
ous mine fields and other debris of World War11 wildcat well was spudded in Cyrenaica by Libyan
in the more traveled areas had to be removed. Thus, American Oil Company, and the first discovery was
the participants in the race to develop Libya's pe- made by Esso in their Atshan No. 1 within three
troleum potential have been understandably reluct- years. Although this first discovery was disappoint-
ant to divulge their hard-won information until ing from a commercial point of view, it together
their positions were reasonably secure. with the successful Algerian exploration activity
It is the purpose of this paper to dispel some of extended interest across the border into Libya.
the mystery that obscures the Libyan oil scene. Most The first apparent commercial discoveries in Libya
of the geological discussion is drawn, in necessarily were the Oasis Oil Co. of Libya's Bahi and Dahra
generalized form, from information unavailable to completions. Following these successes the industry
the public. It is to be hoped that the great amount intensified its efforts in central Libya which resulted
of geological data amassed by companies active in in Esso's widely publicized Zelten discovery which
Libya will be more freely disseminated in the near was reported to have flowed at the rate of 17,500
future. barrels of oil per day. These commercial discoveries
were made only four years after the granting of
concessions.
Petroleum Development These electrifying discoveries set off a chain react-
ion, as it were, and in the years that have followed
Libya was granted independence by the United up to mid-1962, a total of 274 new-field wildcats
Nations on December 24, 1951. At that time, little have resulted in 51 oil discoveries. Of a total of
was known of the geology of the country. Four 534 wells of all types drilled, 248 have been success-
years later, a petroleum law was passed which ful. Success in some degree has touched all of the
allowed interested parties to apply for concessions original nine concessionaires.
for the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons. The Dahra and Zelten fields were rapidly devel-
The first granting of concessions occurred in No- oped and pipeline projects were undertaken at an
vember, 1955, and continued through May, 1956. early date. The first shipment of Libyan crude to
Nine operators were the successful recipients of a world markets was made from Zelten field on Oc-
total of 49 concessions covering 488,323 square kilo- tober 1, 1961, or just less than six years after the
meters, or 36 per cent of the entire country. Sub- original granting of concessions. First shipment of
sequent grants have been made yearly, and by Dahra oil followed seven months later. Crude ship-
late 1962 about 60 per cent of the nation was under ments averaged 236,000 barrels a day in July, 1962.
concession. (Figure 1) Other more recent discoveries of significance are
Concession grants were for a period of 50 years the Esso-Sirte Inc. Raguba field; Oasis Oil Co. of
with the requirement that concessions in Petroleum Libya, Inc. Samah, Waha, and Gialo fields; and the
Zones1 and II, the northern part of the country, British Petroleum C-65 area field. Most of these are
should be reduced to 75 per cent of their size at considerably more distant from the seacoast than
the end of the first five years and to 50 per cent of the the original discoveries; however, Oasis and Esso
original size at the end of eight years, and finally are going forward with pipeline projects to bring
to 33'13 per cent of their original size, but not less than crude from some of these fields to the seaboard.
3,000 square kilometers, after ten years. The re- There are two pipeline systems. The first to be
quirements in Zones111 and IV were the same for completed was the 30-inch 1?2-kilometer line from
the first two periods but the final reduction was to Zelten to Marsa Brega. A 20-inch 86-kilometer spur
be to 25 per cent of the original size but not less is scheduled to tie into the Raguba field. The other
than 5,000 square kilometers. In many instances the system is a 30-inch 140-kilometer line from the
grants carried some kind of work obligations to be Dahra field to the coast at Es Sider. A 32-inch line
performed. is planed to extend this system 256 kilometers into
Following the granting of concessions, Libya's rise the southern Sirte basin.
in petroleum stature to that of a major producing Initial delivery to the coast has been by gravity
country was exceedingly rapid. Just four and one- feed in both lines. The combined through-put pro-

2 1/43
CONCESSION AREA 2..
, 1962 20.
SEPT I
1.. I
DISCOVERY AREAS--+
OIL FIELDS------0
SCALE
1.. \..i
KM-
y_
o
--
m 100 tw
-
300
-
u0 40 wo KY.

AREA UNDER MNICESSION

Figure 1
Libya - total area under concession, oil fields, discovery areas, pipelines

duction tentatively planned for these two systems Exploration Methods


upon completion is about 500,000 barrels of oil per
day. Pumping stations may be added ultimately as Initial exploration methods consisted of recon-
production capacity warrants their installation. naissance geological field mapping which was later

w43 3
strengthened with aerial photographic surveys. In Regional Geologic Setting
conjunction with the geological studies, extensive
gravity and magnetic surveys were conducted. The General
final phase of early exploration was the seismic
survey, and the accompanying graph, Figure 2, shows The petroleum success story of Libya has involved
the rapid increase and the high level of seismic the work of a great many geologists, and a wealth
operation that was sustained. of information has been amassed, most of which is
The most modern geophysical methods such as in the files of the companies active in Libya and
weight dropping and vibrating methods were utilized not available to the public. However, it is hoped
as soon as the tools became available. The success that the following necessarily generalized review of
of the geological and geophysical tools can be meac- the regional geological setting will be of interest.
ured by a review of the rapid and sustained rig The term "Mediterranean foreland" is appropriate
activity as illustrated by Figure 2. for that segment of the African continent fronting
All this was carried out in a country which had on the Mediterranean Sea and bounded on the south
been ravaged by war, and such detritus as land by the pre-Cambrian massifs of central Africa.
mines, bombs, and other explosive war material had The tectonic forces which have shaped this wide
to be laboriously detected and removed from the region have naturally had a variable effect upon the
work areas. paleogeography through geologic time. Neverthe-

SEISMOGRAPH AND RIG ACTIVITY IN LIBYA

1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963


~

Figure 2
Chart showing levels of seismograph
and drilJing rig activity

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15. __ . .. .. 20. -,,_ -----
M E D I I T E R R I A N E A N

Figure 3
Libya - general outcrop pattern, oil fields, discovery areas
less, the Mediterranean foreland is a distinct unit Compressional tectonics are nowhere conspicuous,
within the larger framework of long-persistent land excepting along portions of the seaward fringe as
and sea. in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco.

1/43 5
Inland, the foreland seems to reflect a history of The Cyrenaican Platform
progressively greater stability toward the African
shield systems of ancient, fractured rocks. Speaking very broadly, the foreland of eastern-
Libya is a part of the Mediterranean foreland most Libya is a basement platform having gentle
which is not complicated by a coastal belt of strong- northward slope, and on which prisms of Paleozoic,
ly folded Sediments comparable to the Atlas com- Mesozoic, and Tertiary Sediments were deposited.
plex. However, a semblance of mild compressional Mesozoic strata thicken markedly in the northern
deformation is seen in the extreme northeastern part portion of the province.
of the country in the Gebe1 Akhdar. This range of
low-relief mountains is the topographic expression Southern Libya
of a highly faulted "anticlinorium" in which Mesozoic
Southern Libya has two important sedimentary
rocks have been uplifted and exposed at the core.
basins. The oil industry has evinced little interest
Epirogenic down-warping, tilting, and block fault-
in these regions during the early exploration of
ing a t a lesser scale have differentially depressed
Libya for the obvious reason that neither present-
the Libyan foreland allowing periodic advance of the
day geography nor paleogeology favor them. They
ancestral Mediterranean (Tethys) seas. Thus, all of
are remote, and only the deepest invasions of Tethyian
the Geologic Systems are represented in the Libyan
seas have reached them to leave behind marine
record, but no single basin appears to contain a
Sediments.
complete column.
The Murzuk Basin
Northern Libya
The Murzuk basin of southwestern Libya is a
Northern Libya can be divided into three major triangular-shaped depression between the Hoggar
geologic provinces, each having its distinctive and Tibesti pre-Cambrian massifs. It is separated
history of sedimentation. from the Ghadames basin to the north by the Gargaf
From west to east these are: Arch. The basin received clastics from nearby high-
land areas during most of Paleozoic and Mesozoic
The Ghadames Basin time. The stratigraphic column includes marine mem-
bers at outcrop.
This basin widens and deepens westward into
Algeria to form one of the largest basement depress- The Kufra Basin
ions in North Africa. On the west, it adjoins the
Hassi Messaoud high; to the east in Libya it is In southeastern Libya and extending into the Re-
bounded on the north and south b y arches in the publics of Chad and the Sudan there is a very large
basement rocks, the Jefren Arch and the Gargaf region flanked by exposures of pre-Cambrian and
Arch. This basin was filled predominantly with Paleozoic rocks. The Libyan portion of this irregul-
Paleozoic sands and shales. arly outlined region is termed the "Kufra" basin
after the famous oasis of that name.
The Sirte Basin, or Embayment On the basis of the scant surface information
available, the subsurface configuration can be only
Formed initially during Cretaceous time, this basin dimly surmised, but beyond question it is relatively
was first filled with terrigenous clastics. These were complex. Block and possibly rift faulting now buried
followed predominantly by carbonates as subsidence beneath "Nubian Sandstones" very likely had a
continued with only minor fluctuations through late controlling effect upon areas and environments of
Cretaceous and Tertiary time. Contemporaneous deposition. In Libya, the Kufra basin probably had
faulting along the lateral margins of this trough-like a general history of sedimentation similar to that
basin probably helped to accomplish the subsidence, of the Murzuk basin. That is, the region received
however, the mechanics of the faulting in this region terrigenous clastics through most of Paleozoic and
are only poorly known and they do not appear t o Mesozoic time, but marine episodes were infre-
be simple. quent and of relatively short duration.

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GENERAL GEOLOGIC COLUMNS
NORTHERN LIBYA
QHADAMES SIRTE CYRE NA ICA N
BASIN BAStN P L A T FO R M

800 KM. ~ + ' 40ÒKM: 4


Figure 4
Generalized stratigraphy of the northern basins

Strafigraphy of Northern Libya Very little of this section is exposed at the surface.
It is interesting to note the broad divisions in
Figure 4 illustrates diagrammatically the subsur- lithofacies that are apparent. Whereas an alternat-
face stratigraphy of the three northern provinces. ion of sands and shales characterize the Paleozoic,

1143 7
carbonates and shales predominate through the late to Hercynian uplift combined to result in the non-
Cretaceous and Tertiary. deposition and erosion of Paleozoic strata.
The time interval from the Permian to the Lower
Cretaceous, inclusive, was a period of erosion or Mesozoic
subaerial and evaporitic marine conditions over most The lower Mesozoic lithofacies reflects the con-
of the Libyan foreland. Generally, the strata represent- tinued emergence of the foreland. Restricted marine
ing that span of time are of widely varying thick- conditions accounting for evaporites and shallow-
nesses of continental "red beds" separating marine water carbonates characterize the facies in north-
phases of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic. In the Sirte western Libya.
basin, however, these strata along with the greater Farther east, a highly varied lithofacies includ-
part of the Paleozoic column are absent entirely. ing carbonaceous shales, silts, poorly sorted sands,
evaporites and shallow-water limestones rapidly
Paleozoic accumulated along a very broad coastal plain that
At the beginning of Carnbro-Ordovician time, extended far into Egypt. Apparently, the plain sub-
.widespread sheets of coarse clastics were laid down sided at a rate to match erosion of the southern
as the young continent was rapidly eroded. A sparse highland and introduction of material to the coast.
fauna and the lithofacies indicate that the cycle be- However, minor imbalances had an important effect
gan with prevailingly continental sedimentation and and they caused the shoreline to fluctuate over wide
ended with much reduced gradients and the intro- distances.
duction, in western Libya at least, of extensive Inland, continental variegated shales and sands
marine shales. attained great thicknesses locally. Mappable sub-
Quiet marine conditions generally continued into divisions of the sequence have been given various
Silurian time. The "Tanezzuft shale" of western Libya names, "Djoua Group" and "Nubian Sandstones"
is a dark-grey graptolitic shale common to the Silur- being the broader terms used.
ian facies as in many parts of the world. The With the advent of the Cenomanian Stage began
shales grade vertically to silts and sands at the close a time of profound regional down-warping accom-
of the Silurian. These "Passage beds" or "Acacus panied by movement of large fault blocks. This tec-
sandstones", are overlain by Devonian "Tadrart tonic activity was the significant event in shaping
sandstones" from which they are difficult to distin- the present-day Sirte basin.
guish. Basal sands, evaporites, and dark shales initially
Transgression reached a maximum during the filled the topographic and structural deeps with an
middle part of Devonian time when silty shales and overall beveling effect. Nearly uniform carbonate
fine sands were deposited widely, along with some sedimentation closed the Period as it did in many
thin limestones locally. other parts of the world.
The Carboniferous column contains a more varied
lithofacies than do the older Systems. An alternation Tertiary
of sands, shales, and limestones bearing a shallow- During Tertiary time epirogenic subsidence con-
marine, benthonic fauna commonly overlie a basal tinued to depress central and eastern Libya, and
transgressive sand. Intertongues of continental particularly east-central Libya as the Sirte basin
beds are present in eastern Libya, reflecting minor acquired its modern configuration. Though relatively
regressions that preceded the wide-spread emerg- gentle and uniform in effect on a basinal scale, the
ence to come. down-warp was complicated by faulting which in-
Marine components of the Permian are present volved vertical, and possibly lateral, adjustments
only along the coastal fringe of the Libyan foreland. between large blocks. Differential movements were
Farther inland, late Paleozoic (Hercynian) orogeny of sufficient magnitude to greatly influence environ-
strongly elevated the foreland and erosion reduced ments of deposition, and even to interrupt sediment-
much of it to a peneplain. It is not yet clear whether ation over high blocks within the basin.
the region now occupied by the Sirte basin was Early Tertiary deposits consist of Danian shales,
largely stripped of its Paleozoic cover at that time, although limestone sedimentation persisted without
or if earlier arching, perhaps Caledonian, in addition a break after Maestrichtian time in some areas. Lime-

8 1143
stone and shale deposition predominated through- Depending upon the locality, one or more of the
out the Paleocene, one lithologic type thickening Paleozoic unconformities may be pronounced and
at the expense of the other depending upon the may have had an important influence on the migrat-
basinal position and sea floor relief. Coarse terrigen- ion and accumulation of petroleum.
ous clastics are virtually absent excepting, perhaps, Nevertheless, the structural element of closure
along some former shore-lines now exposed at the seems to be of paramount significance in the great
surface. Hypersaline conditions seem to have prev- majority of the discoveries made thus far. This
ailed in eastern Libya. situation is only to be expected for an early cycle
A thick development of interbedded dolomite and of petroleum exploration.
anhydrite is the distinctive aspect of the lower Pay thicknesses, porosities, permeabilities, gadoil
Eocene. During middle Eocene time, less restricted ratios and other characteristics of Paleozoic reser-
seas advanced far south and massive-bedded shallow- voirs vary considerably. The ultimate productivities
water limestones were laid down broken only by of the zones will no doubt prove to be equally
infrequent thin lignitic shales and coal beds. Land- variable; there are no production histories on which
derived clastics, including some sands, became im- to base estimates. The best indicators available are
portant in upper Eocene time as the sea withdrew. well-completion test rates which range from 60 to
Oligocene beds reflect further regression and car- 1932 barrels per day, 680 barrels per day being the
bonate facies are minor as compared to sands and average of 27 wells.
shales.
The general retreat of the seas which occurred Mesozoic
through late Tertiary time was briefly interrupted With the single exception of a Triassic sand pro-
by middle Miocene subsidence in eastern Libya and ducer completed in western Libya, Mesozoic oil dis-
Egypt, Shallow-water limestones were widely de- coveries have been confined to Cretaceous rocks of
posited. the Sirte basin.
Immediately following the middle Miocene, the The pre-Cretaceous erosinal surface exerted pro-
foreland was again raised and later sedimentation found effect on this occurrence. Depositional en-
was restricted to minor embayments in the north. vironments were largely controlled by pre-existing
topography that became initial sea-floor relief as
Hydrocarbon Occurrence the Cretaceous seas inundated the foreland. Although
sedimentary infill rapidly modified that ancient
Hydrocarbon accumulations, in amounts which terrain, its influence tended to be preserved by
vary from significant to abundant or prolific, are differential compaction of the overburden and
widely distributed over the Libyan part of the Me- renewed fault movement.
diterranean foreland. Of equal interest is the ver-
By late Maestrichtian time, even the highest
tical range of occurrence. Practically every geologic
eminences had been mantled by Sediments, gener-
system in the sedimentary column contributes some
ally speaking. Most of the oil now found in Creta-
accumulation to the total.
ceous rocks is trapped in carbonate or sand reser-
Paleozoic voirs either at the crests, or flanking the crests of
the larger of these features.
Sandstones comprise virtually all of the Paleozoic
reservoirs discovered to date. Various sand mem- Littoral-zone calcarenites, some of which have
bers of the Cambro-Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, been altered to dolomites, and basal sandstone facies
and Carboniferous Systems have been found to be are the dominant reservoir rocks. Reefal facies are
productive in the Ghadames basin. Approximately known, but they have not yet been found commer-
equivalent strata are present in the Cyrenaican cially productive.
Platform of eastern Libya but they have not yet Again, production characteristics of Cretaceous
yielded petroleum. However, few Paleozoic tests reservoirs vary considerably. However, the comp-
have been drilled there and this perhaps is the letion rates for Cretaceous wells are generally bet-
reason for lack of success rather than any inherent ter than those reported for Paleozoic wells. Many
sedimentary deficiency. of the Cretaceous producers are capable of several

1/43 9
thousand barrels of oil per day. Production ex- Libya's Future
perience will be required to determine if these rates
can be sustained. Libya got off to a fast start in its rise to a major
producer of petroleum. Undoubtedly the future ap-
The Samah and Waha fields contain important
pears bright. As additional pipelines traverse the
Upper Cretaceous oil pools; other discoveries have
country from existing and future major discoveries,
been reported but they require further well con-
many of the existing sub-commercial discoveries
firmation.
will take on a more promising aspect.
In conjunction with this new burgeoning industry
Tertiary will arise associated industries and services which
cannot help but add to the country's prosperity and
Tertiary reservoirs, mainly Paleocene carbonates,
future stature among the oil-producing nations of
of the Sirte basin contain the great bulk of the
the world.
reserves found in Libya by mid-1962.
Following the extensive deposition of shales in
Acknowledgements
Danian time, Paleocene conditions often favored
the deposition of shallow-water clastic limestones. The author wish to express appreciation to the Oasis Oil
These carbonates exhibit the full range of variety Company of Libya, Inc., operator for Amerada Petroleum
in biotic constituents, structural fabrics and diagen- Corporation of Libya, Continental Oil Company of Libya
etic modifications that is typical of the rock type, and Marathon Petroleum Libya, Ltd., for permission to
and micro-facies correlations are complex. However, draw on company records and to publish this paper.
some of the gross carbonate units have good lateral
continuity and can be easily traced from well to This paper was presented on June 20, 1963, by
well over large portions of the basin. Thus, these B. B. COLLEY.
rocks have served as excellent reservoirs for hy-
drocarbons.
The Dahra and Defa fields are examples of fields Discussion
having Paleocene carbonates as the primary pro-
ductive zones. Completion rates are in the order of C. P. M. FRYLINCK (ex Royal Dutch Shell, Zeist,
several thousand barrels of oil per day. Netherlands). Can Mr. Colley add a few details to
the "possibly lateral (fault movement) between large
Petroleum shows are common in lower Eocene
blocks" as mentioned in the heading Tertiary.
carbonates but "commercial" production is unknown.
B. B. COLLEY replies. In some cases the subsur-
The general absence of shales and the evaporitic
face stratigraphy revealed in wells suggests this
lithofacies that characterize lower Eocene strata are
type of movement, However, considerable addi-
discouraging factors.
tional evidence will be required to further define
The massive carbonate beds of the middle Eocene this
are more attractive. Limestones having good reser- C. P. M, FRYLINCK. source rocks not having been
voir properties are abundant; many of these rocks explicitly mentioned, it may be asked whether all
are composed almost entirely of nummulities and Mesozoic (and perhaps also Tertiary) oils e. g. of the
other very large benthonic foraminifera. Petroleum Sirte ~ ~might~have i got accumulated
~ , by long-
shows are and are the rather distance migration from adjacent Paleozoic mother
than the exception where the section is overlain formation(s),
unconformably by upper Eocene shale. B. B. COLLEY replies. It is doubtful if the oil in
Significant reserves have been established in a the Cretaceous and Tertiary strata of the Sirte Basin
middle Eocene limestone zone at the Gialo field, had its origin from Paleozoic rocks. Actually there
southeastern Sirte basin. Oil accumulations in upper are well d(eve1oped marine shale sections in both
Eocene and Oligocene beds also are present at drill the Tertiary and Mesozoic which could be source
depths of less than 3,000 feet. The producing zones beds. In contrast, the Paleozoic section of the Sirte
are lenticular shallow-water carbonates and sands Basin is relatively thin and consists predominently
irregularly separated by thin shales. of quartzitic sandstones.

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