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Petroleum geology and geochemistry

Identifying traces of oil in sediments, such as sand grains from beneath the ocean floor (above), increase our understanding of the movement of hydrocarbons in the Great Australian Bight.

The Great Australian Bight may contain valuable hydrocarbon resources however there are major knowledge gaps that limit our understanding of potential petroleum systems and how, and if, these assets interact with the deep water marine ecosystem.

The Petroleum Systems Theme will focus on identifying and understanding hyrdocarbon seeps; oil strandings (tar balls and harder, rock like Ashphaltites) on beaches; and fluid inclusions (bubbles of liquid and/or gas contained in grain sands) in subsurface rock of deep exploratory wells.

Petroleum geology and geochemistry projects

Delineation and characterisation of cold hydrocarbon seeps and their associated benthic communities. Principal Investigator: Dr Andrew Ross, CSIRO.

The hydrocarbon seeps project is focused on the multidisciplinary study of both the subsurface geology, benthic environment and water column to identify and understand if hydrocarbon seeps exist in the Great Australian Bight.

Identification of potential areas of natural hydrocarbon seeps that have geological connections to deeply buried petroleum systems will help with the understanding of petroleum systems of the Great Australian Bight.

Sampling and analysis of sediment and waters for hydrocarbons will establish baseline information on the natural abundances of hydrocarbons before exploration activities are undertaken.

Fact sheet: Seeking natural seeps: a sign of petroleum systems in the Bight (PDF 322KB)

Ashphaltite and tar ball surveys. Principal Investigator: Dr Andrew Ross, CSIRO.

This project will help to identify possible hydrocarbon leakage points in the Great Australian Bight and provide a bank of specimens and geographic distribution data to further assist with derisking of petroleum exploration activities.

It will also support environmental management by assessing natural levels of hydrocarbons in shoreline habitats, and establishing a baseline record and drift patterns needed to assess and respond to the impact of any potential hydrocarbon release into the environment.

Fact sheet: Reading coastal clues to hydrocarbon seeps in the Bight (PDF 302KB)

Fluid inclusion study. Principal Investigator: Dr Richard Kempton, CSIRO.

Understanding the petroleum systems in the Great Australian Bight, by direct measurement from fluid inclusions, will help build a picture of how oil and/or gas evolved and moved through the rocks of this largely unexplored region. Unlocking this information allows petroleum system models to be calibrated from the rocks, which has implications for prospectivity in the region.

The ability to fingerprint the molecular composition of liquid hydrocarbons will contribute to the understanding of baseline hydrocarbon loading in the Great Australian Bight and potential sources for some of the coastal bitumen strandings.

Fact sheet: Tracing hydrocarbons in the Bight (PDF 320KB)

Petroleum geology and geochemistry team

Final reports

Ross A and Kempton R (2017). Theme 5: Petroleum Geochemistry of the Great Australian Bight. Theme Report. Great Australian Bight Research Program, GABRP Research Report Series Number 38, 25pp.



The Great Australian Bight Research Program is a collaboration between BP, CSIRO, the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), the University of Adelaide, and Flinders University.