A Petroleum Geology Powerhouse

Middle East Region

Petroleum geology’s advancement as a source of prosperity and a driver of human industry and progress around the world is the essence of AAPG’s mission – and nowhere is the ground more fertile for that mission to bear fruit than in the Middle East.

As we all know, the Arabian Plate has been blessed with an enormous endowment of oil and gas.

This relatively small plate, which occupies less than 4 percent of the earth’s land surface, contains more than 50 percent of the world’s known oil reserves and more than 40 percent of the natural gas reserves, according to BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

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Petroleum geology’s advancement as a source of prosperity and a driver of human industry and progress around the world is the essence of AAPG’s mission – and nowhere is the ground more fertile for that mission to bear fruit than in the Middle East.

As we all know, the Arabian Plate has been blessed with an enormous endowment of oil and gas.

This relatively small plate, which occupies less than 4 percent of the earth’s land surface, contains more than 50 percent of the world’s known oil reserves and more than 40 percent of the natural gas reserves, according to BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

The richness in natural hydrocarbon occurrence in the Middle East can be attributed to many favorable geological factors.

  • From a geographical perspective, its position in the north facing of the Gondwana margin allowed the deposition of prolific cycles of reservoir, seal and rich source rocks. Large areas of the continental passive margin of the different phases of the Tethys Ocean were covered by extensive reservoirs, seals and source rocks.
  • Extremely rich, oil-prone extensive source rocks blanketed the passive margins during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic times.
  • The position around the equator during the Proterozoic yielded excellent carbonate reservoirs and exceedingly high organic richness.
  • The trap formation in broad gentle structures preserved these resources and has benefitted ancient cultures of the Middle East and today’s modern global industrial societies alike.

Knowledge and use of hydrocarbons in the Middle East date back 4,000 years. In these times, asphalt, oil and gas seeps from underground hydrocarbons were used by ancient civilizations for lighting oil lamps and for heating and cooking (when mixed with camel dung).

Also, the “eternal fire” at Baba Gurgur, Iraq, has burned for more than 4,000 years and is one of many spiritual sites in the Middle East that has been used for worship over the millennia.

In recent years the large-scale development of the oil and gas reserves have transformed many Middle East countries from emerging to far-reaching global industrial economies.

Petroleum geology has played a key role in this transformation up to now, and will play an increasingly more important role in the future as Middle Eastern countries strive for the highest recovery rates in the world.

Achieving these high recovery rates requires a greater understanding of the subsurface, which calls for an even greater role for petroleum geology.

In fact, this role has caused the Middle East to become the global center of excellence for petroleum geology.


There are a number of factors that have caused the emergence of the Middle East to be a petroleum geology powerhouse, but four key pillars will support the growth and advancement of petroleum geology:

  • As mentioned, the Middle East has the world’s largest oil and gas, and as these fields benefit from the latest technical innovation to ensure maximum recovery, they’ll continue to produce well into the future.
  • The Middle East has outstanding sedimentary geology and a complete geologic column. Much of this column is exposed in surface outcrops that are mostly free of feature-covering vegetation.
  • The Middle East has extremely prolific carbonate reservoirs. These difficult-to-understand reservoirs have provided – and will continue to provide – the rest of the world with marvelous opportunities for learning.
  • The transition of many Middle East countries to knowledge-based economies has seen an extensive investment into post-secondary education. New universities in the Middle East bring new facilities through which to grow the instruction of petroleum geology.

The advancement of petroleum geology, which is at the heart of the AAPG organization mission, will continue to bring prosperity to humanity around the world. The Middle East is well positioned to lead this advancement in the coming years and decades ahead.

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