Arafura Basin

Location Map

Arafura Basin in relation to Australia

Map showing the location of Arafura Basin in relation to Australia
© Geoscience Australia

Basin Details and Geological Overview

The Neoproterozoic to Palaeozoic Arafura Basin is located on the northern Australian margin. It is underlain by the Proterozoic McArthur Basin and the Archean to Proterozoic Pine Creek Inlier, and overlain by the Mesozoic to Recent Money Shoal Basin. The structure of the Arafura Basin is dominated by the highly deformed Goulburn Graben.

The Goulburn Graben is a northwest trending asymmetric feature, over 350km long and up to 70km wide, and contains a sedimentary section in excess of 10km thick. The region to the north of the Goulburn Graben forms the basin depocentre and contains a sedimentary succession up to 15km thick. South of the Goulburn Graben a north-dipping relatively undeformed ramp contains up to 3km of sedimentary rocks.

The Arafura Basin is located on the northern margin of Australia in the Arafura Sea and extends from the onshore Northern Territory to offshore northern Australia and beyond the Australian-Indonesian border, covering approximately 200 000km2 in Australian territory.

The Arafura Basin formed in the Neoproterozoic as a result of NW-SE upper crustal extension producing a series of NE-SW trending half graben across much of the basin. During this time the dominantly clastic sediments of the Wessel Group were deposited. Subsequent periods of subsidence in the Cambro-Ordovician, Late Devonian and Late Carboniferous to Early Permian were separated by long, tectonically quiescent periods of non-deposition and erosion. The predominantly marine carbonates of the Cambro-Ordovician Goulburn Group are overlain by shallow marine to non-marine clastics and carbonates of the Devonian Arafura Group and fluvio-deltaic clastics of the Late Carboniferous to Early Permian Kulshill Group equivalent.

The Goulburn Graben formed in the Late Carboniferous to Early Permian in response to oblique extension associated with the break-up of Gondwana. Subsequent contraction in the Triassic resulted in oblique inversion of the Goulburn Graben, uplift and erosion of up to 3.5km of sediment. The deformational event affected areas to the north and south of the Goulburn Graben to a lesser extent. Subsequent erosion resulted in formation of a peneplain across the basin upon which the sediments of the Money Shoal Basin were deposited. 

Stratigraphy

Tectonostratigraphy of the Arafura Basin region

Tectonostratigraphy of the
Arafura Basin region
© Geoscience Australia

Well Correlation Chart Arafura Basin Wells - Goulburn Graben

Well Correlation Chart
Arafura Basin Wells - Goulburn Graben
© Geoscience Australia

Regional Cross-sections

Regional cross-section through the Goulburn Graben - from Torres 1 to Goulburn 1 (Earl, 2006)

Regional cross-section through the Goulburn
Graben - from Torres 1 to Goulburn 1 (Earl, 2006)
© Geoscience Australia

Regional cross-section from the Goulburn Graben (Kulka-1) to the northern platform (Earl, 2006)

Regional cross-section from the Goulburn Graben (Kulka-1)
to the northern platform (Earl, 2006)
© Geoscience Australia

Petroleum Systems and Hydrocarbon Potential

The Arafura Basin, despite its thick sedimentary succession and shallow waters depths, is largely a frontier region. Previous exploration in the region has been limited to the Goulburn Graben, where the thick sedimentary succession and large inversion structures provided the exploration targets. Drilling activity occurred in 3 phases - the early 1970s, early 1980s and the late 1980s to early 1990s. To date, a total of nine wells has been drilled, with the best result being an oil and gas show at Arafura-1. This exploration also confirmed the presence of essential petroleum system elements including potential Palaeozoic and Mesozoic source and reservoir rocks and a thick regional seal in the overlying Money Shoal Basin sediments.

The lack of commercial success has been attributed to a combination of poor quality reservoirs in the Palaeozoic and/or restricted fluid movement, absence of hydrocarbon charge, timing of events and breach of structure. However, despite the current lack of success, there are numerous indicators for untested petroleum potential, particularly in the undrilled northern region of the basin:

  • The petroleum systems elements found in the Goulburn Graben are also likely to be present in the northern region
  • Many of the risks identified in the Goulburn Graben are reduced in the northern region (shallower reservoirs, reduced charge risk and reduced risk of breached structures)
  • A wide range of play types are present, ranging from faulted anticlines and sub-unconformity plays in Palaeozoic strata to fault block plays and numerous stratigraphic plays in Mesozoic strata
  • Direct evidence that hydrocarbon generation and expulsion has occurred in the Arafura Basin is provided by oil shows/indications and gas indications in the majority of wells drilled, and the presence of interstitial solid bitumens in many samples. Seismic data show bright amplitudes at various stratigraphic levels and these may indicate hydrocarbons in the section
  • A 2005 Geoscience Australia survey to investigate potential hydrocarbon seepage in the Arafura Basin collected a range of datasets, including sub-bottom profiles, side-scan sonar and echosounder data. These, together with available deep-seismic data, show a range of features that are indicative of the presence of hydrocarbons in the northern and northeastern basin.
Petroleum exploration wells drilled in the Arafura Basin

Petroleum exploration wells drilled in the Arafura Basin
© Geoscience Australia

Arafura-1. a) Oil staining in sub-vertical fractures within Ordovician dolomite, b) banded oil staining within Devonian siltstone

Arafura-1. a) Oil staining in sub-vertical fractures within Ordovician dolomite,
b) banded oil staining within Devonian siltstone
© Geoscience Australia

Key References

Author(s) Year Title
Bradshaw, B., Nicoll, R.S. and Bradshaw, M. 1990 The Cambrian to Permo-Triassic Arafura Basin, Northern Australia. The APEA Journal 30, 107-127
Edwards, D.S., Summons, R.E., Kennard, J.M., Nicholl, R.S., Bradshaw, J., Bradshaw, M., Foster, C.B., O'Brien, G.W. and Zumberge, J.E. 1997 Geochemical characteristics of Palaeozoic petroleum systems in Northwestern Australia. The APPEA Journal, 37 (1), 351-379
Earl, K.L. 2006 An audit of wells in the Arafura Basin. Geoscience Australia Record 2006/02
Infoterra Ltd 2003 Global Seeps - Arafura Sea. Confidential Report (unpublished)
Kempton, R.H. and Fenton, S. 2006 Investigation of hydrocarbon charge in the Cobra-1a, Kulka-1, Money Shoal-1, Tasman-1 and Torres-1 exploration wells, Goulburn Graben, Arafura Basin, northern margin of Australia. In Struckmeyer, H.I.M. (compiler), 2006. New datasets for the Arafura Basin. Geoscience Australia Record 2006/06
Labutis, V., Moore, A. and Bradshaw, J. 1992 Arafura petroleum prospectivity evaluation report. AGSO Record 1992/84
Laurie, J.R. 2006 Macrofossils from Petrofina Arafura 1, Goulburn Graben, Arafura Basin. Geoscience Australia Professional Opinion No. 2006/01
Logan, G.A, Ryan, G.J., Glenn, K., Rollet, N., Hemer, M., Twyford, L. and Shipboard Party 2006 Shallow gas and benthic habitat mapping, Arafura Sea. RV Southern Surveyor May - June 2005, S282 Post Cruise Report. Geoscience Australia Record 2006/19
Martin, B.A. and Cawley, S.J. 1991 Onshore and offshore petroleum seepage: contrasting a conventional study in Papua New Guinea and airborne laser fluorosensing over the Arafura Sea. APEA Journal 31(1), 333-353
McKirdy, D.M. and Horvath, Z. 1976 Geochemistry and significance of coastal bitumen from southern and northern Australia. APEA Journal 16, 123-135
McLennan, J.M., Rasidi, J.S., Holmes, R.L. and Smith, G.C. 1990 The geology and petroleum potential of the western Arafura Sea. APEA Journal 30, 91-106
Moore A., Bradshaw J. and Edwards D. 1996 Geohistory modelling of hydrocarbon migration and trap formation in the Arafura Sea. The Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia Journal 24, 35-51
Miyazaki, S. and McNeil, B. 1998 Arafura Sea. Petroleum Prospectivity Bulletin and Database 1998/1. Bureau of Resource Sciences, Canberra
Nicoll, R.S., Shergold, J.H., Laurie, J.R. and Bischoff, G.C.O. 1996 Cambrian and Ordovician biostratigraphy of the Arafura Basin, northern Australia. Geological Society of Australia, Abstracts 41, 318
Petroconsultants 1989 Northern Territory Geological Survey petroleum basin study - Arafura Basin. Northern Territory Department of Mines and Energy Report
Sherwood, N., Russell, N. and Faiz, M. 2006 Thermal maturity evaluation using a combination of FAMM and conventional organic petrological analyses for samples from a suite of wells in the Arafura Basin, Australia. In: Struckmeyer, H.I.M. (compiler) 2006, New datasets for the Arafura Basin. Geoscience Australia Record. 2006/06
Struckmeyer, H.I.M. (compiler) 2006a New datasets for the Arafura Basin. Geoscience Australia Record. 2006/06
Struckmeyer, H.I.M. (compiler) 2006b Petroleum Geology of the Arafura and Money Shoal Basins. Geoscience Australia Record 2006/22
Summons, R.E., Bradshaw, J.B., Brooks, D.M., Goody, A.K., Murray, A.P. and Foster, C.B. 1993 Hydrocarbon composition and origins of coastal bitumens from the Northern Territory, Australia. PESA Journal, 31-42

Topic contact: petroleum@ga.gov.au Last updated: September 26, 2012