Structural Traps

There are three basic forms of a structural trap in petroleum geology:

The common link between these three is simple: some part of the earth has moved in the past, creating an impedence to oil flow.

Anticline Trap

An anticline is an example of rocks which were previously flat, but have been bent into an arch. Oil that finds its way into a reservoir rock that has been bent into an arch will flow to the crest of the arch, and get stuck (provided, of course, that there is a trap rock above the arch to seal the oil in place).

Anticline Traps beneath the earth's surface
A cross section of the Earth showing typical Anticline Traps. Reseroir rock that isn't completely filled with oil also contains large amounts of salt water.

Fault Trap

Fault traps are formed by movement of rock along a fault line. In some cases, the reservoir rock has moved opposite a layer of impermeable rock. The impermeable rock thus prevents the oil from escaping. In other cases, the fault itself can be a very effective trap. Clays within the fault zone are smeared as the layers of rock slip past one another. This is known as fault gouge.

A cross section of rock showing a fault trap - in this case, an example of gouge. This is because the reservoir rock on both sides of the fault would be connected, if not for the fault seperating the two. In this example, it is the fault itself that is trapping the oil.

Click here to see an example of another fault trap

Salt Dome Trap

Salt is a peculiar substance. If you put enough heat and pressure on it, the salt will slowly flow, much like a glacier that slowly but continually moves downhill. Unike glaciers, salt which is buried kilometers below the surface of the Earth can move upward until it breaks through to the Earth's surface, where it is then dissolved by ground- and rain-water. To get all the way to the Earth's surface, salt has to push aside and break through many layers of rock in its path. This is what ultimately will create the oil trap.

Here we see salt that has moved up through the Earth, punching through and bending rock along the way. Oil can come to rest right up against the salt, which makes salt an effective trap rock. However, many times, the salt chemically changes the rocks next to it in such a way that oil will no longer seep into them. In a sense, it destroys the porosity of a reservoir rock.


The World of Oil

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