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During the Mesozoic, and especially in the Triassic and Late Cretaceous, and even probably during the Permian, the N-S uplifts and basins of the Arabian Trend were intermittently reactivated, as seen in the Ghawar Anticline, Dibdibah Trough and Qatar Arch. There is even evidence in the Ma'aqala Arch, and by truncation of the Lower Eocene, Rus Formation in Ghawar, that tectonism along the Arabian Trend extended to at least Mid Tertiary times. The prominence of the Hofuf Formation, and its topographic expression over the Ghawar Anticline, indicates that intermittent reactivation of these N-S trends probably continued until the end of the Pliocene. With the NNE drift of the Arabian Plate, and its separation from the African Plate from Oligocene onward (McKenzie 1972), a new set of stress conditions prevailed in basement beneath the Saudi oil fields. In this movement, the Arabian Plate was not only pushed north-northeast but was also stressed in a shear couple formed by the left-lateral, Aqaba- Dead Sea Fault (Freund et alii 1970) and the right-lateral Masirah Fault and Owen Fracture Zone (Jackson et alii 1981).

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Figure 13. Evolution of the Stress Field in the Basement of the Saudi Arabian Oil Field Areas as indicated by the Stress Ellipse.


With the greatest principal-stress axis directed NNE towards the Zagros Ranges of southern Iran, two major vertical shears were produced at about N 36° E and N 20° W. The NW direction of vertical shear stress has produced right-lateral, strike-slip faults in the basement parallel to the shoreline of northeastern Saudi Arabia, and roughly parallel to the Najd Fault Zone (Agar 1985) and the axis of the Red Sea. This basement fault trend offsets the axial trace of the Safaniya Anticline in a right-lateral fashion, as shown from running difference gravity.

It is also thought to underlie the Manifa Oil Field, which is a broad, doubly plunging anticline with a NW-SE trend. The Manifa Anticline is also considered to be caused by basement wrench faulting, cutting the Hormuz Series salt beds and giving rise to deep-seated diapirism which has pushed up overlying strata. It is said that the Manifa structure lies near a regional gravity high, but when the regional gradient of gravity is removed it appears as a broad, negative gravity feature.

A whole series of left-lateral, strike-slip faults were also produced in the basement along the N 36° E trend (i.e. Aualitic Trend), as can be clearly seen in southern Iran, where rows of Hormuz Series salt-piercement structures are aligned along this trend (Fürst 1970). These transcurrent basement faults extend southwestward beneath the Persian Gulf and even under the main oil fields of Saudi Arabia, as shown by computer enhancement of gravity residuals in azimuths from 15° to 75° (Fig. 12) by Barnes (1987). In many of the Saudi offshore oil fields, this series of left-lateral basement faults is also evident and has extended up into the Hormuz Series salt beds, causing salt-wall type halokinesis and pushing up overlying strata to form doubly-plunging oil-field anticlines. Some of the Saudi oil fields which have this type of origin are Kurayan, Khafji, Jana, Jurayd and Safaniya. Most probably, the large Abqaiq Field is also of this type, and by removal of the outermost structure contours (Levorsen 1954) it can be seen that the majority of closure on the Arab-D (more than 1,000 ft) forms a distinctive, NE trending brachyanticline, which is difficult to explain except as a deep-seated salt diapir induced by this NE-SW left-lateral, basement wrench-fault trend.

An interpretation of the evolution of the stress field in northeastern Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf from Late Proterozoic to Late Cenozoic is shown in Fig. 13 by the changing stress ellipse.


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EDGELL, H.S. (1992) –

Basement tectonics of Saudi Arabia as related to oil field structures. In: M.J. Rickard et alii (eds.), Basement Tectonics 9, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, p. 169-193, 1 table, 13 figures.

  with kind permission from Kluwer Academic Publishers


© 1992 Kluwer Academic Publishers

With kind permission from Kluwer Academic Publishers

Permission DDD/005/20.000/05.01