PetroleumAugust 26, 2008
One of the hazards of being a geologist in Jordan is that you are always asked “Is there petroleum in Jordan?”, or “Why hasn’t oil been found? There is oil in all of the countries surrounding us”.
Of course, this last statement is always heard, but is somewhat misleading. It is implied or stated that we are incompetent or that the government wants to hide this wealth.
One must start by looking at a map.
The map clearly shows that, while yes, technically there is petroleum in most of the countries around us; the major fields are quite far from us. These are centered in a belt extending from the Arabian Gulf through northern Iraq and possibly into central Asia. We are well outside the belt.
It is no coincidence that the petroleum belt overlaps with the major tectonic plate boundary that separates the Arabian and Eurasian plates. This plate boundary is known as a convergent plate boundary, with the Arabian plate being pushed (or subducted) under the Eurasian plate. This is very different from the plate boundary separating the Arabian and African plates, where they are moving along side each other in the Jordan Valley area, and are separating in the Red Sea area. More on plate tectonics can be found here.
Not all convergent plate boundaries have oil. In fact, the scale of petroleum reserves in the Gulf far dwarf anything else in the world.
However, being outside the oil belt or away from convergent plate boundaries does not preclude the presence of oil in Jordan. Geological requirements for petroleum reserves to exist in a certain area include the following:
1- A source rock. This typically means a sedimentary rock rich in organic material (like the oil shale rocks that we keep hearing about). This source rock provides the liquid organic material known as petroleum if it goes through certain conditions. Specifically, these source rocks need to be heated to temperatures of 100-150oC (more here). If they are not heated, they remain in the form of kerogen. Studies of source rock maturation the Dead Sea area have been conducted previously.
2- A reservoir rock. This is a rock that has high enough porosity (% pore spaces) and permeability (ability to allow liquids to move) so that the petroleum can be stored in it. These are typically east to find, as they can be any number of sedimentary rocks (limestone, sandstone, dolostone, etc.). These are available in Jordan.
3- A trap. This is a feature that prevents the movement of oil. It can be a low permeability rock (known as a stratigraphic trap), or a structural feature like a fault or a fold in the rock. These are known as structural traps. These are potentially present, but are difficult to find in the subsurface, requiring detailed geophysical exploration to determine where the best potential for a trap lies. Since drilling an exploration well is very expensive, good geophysical subsurface studies are essential for an effective exploration effort.
Sadooni and Dalqamouni have suggested that oil may be present in northern Jordan, based on the presence of all of the requirements. All of these conditions are present in various areas in Jordan. The Natural Resources Authority emphasizes how little exploration has been done in an attempt to lure exploration companies into the country. Other researchers agree that conditions for petroleum in Jordan are there, but insufficient research has been done. In any case, it is doubtful that if oil is found, it will be at the scale found in our rich neighbors’ territory.