Tectonic evolution of the NW Sabah continental margin since the Late Eocene

Author : Denis N.K. Tan & J .M. Lamy
Publication : Bulletin of the Geological Society of Malaysia
Page : 241-260
Volume Number : 27
Year : 1990
DOI : https://doi.org/10.7186/bgsm27199012

Bulletin of the Geological Society of Malaysia, Volume 27, November 1990, pp. 241– 260

Tectonic evolution of the NW Sabah continental margin since the Late Eocene


Sabah Shell Petroleum Company Ltd.


Abstract: The NW Sabah continental margin in the northern part of NW Borneo, consists of 2 main elements: a Tertiary trench-associated sedimentary basin with up to 12 km of siliciclastic sediments and the Southern South China Sea Platform, separated by the deep and relatively narrow, NE-trending NW Sabah Trough. 

The Tertiary sedimentary sequences were deposited during two main phases of basin development:

1. a pre-early Middle Miocene phase of generally deep-marine clastic sedimentation (Stages I, II and III). The sediments were subjected to strong compression to form an imbricate wedge related to the subduction of the South China plate. This was concomitant with the counter-clockwise rotation of the Borneo plate, and the relative motion of the two plates may have produced N-S wrench faults.

2. a post-early Middle Miocene phase of clastic shelf/slope deposition (Stage IV) which prograded northwestward over the underlying imbricate wedge and separated from the latter by a major regional unconformity. 

On the basis of differences in structural styles and sedimentation histories, the NW Sabah continental margin can be subdivided into 7 tectonostratigraphic provinces: (1) the CrockerAccretionary Prism, (2) the Inboard Belt, (3) the Outboard Belt, (4) the East Baram Delta, (5) the NW Sabah Margin, (6) the NW Sabah Trough and (7) the Southern South China Sea Platform. 

Some 90 exploration and exploratory appraisal wells have been drilled in the NW Sabah offshore. Apart from minor oil and gas shows in the pre-early Middle Miocene deep-marine sediments, all commercial accumulations discovered to date have been found in the Middle Miocene or younger clastic reservoirs in the Inboard Belt, Outboard Belt and East Baram Delta. The other tectonostratigraphic province have not been drilled to date. 

The tectonic evolution of the NW Sabah continental margin occurred in four stages: 

1. The Late Eocene to early Middle Miocene subduction of the South China Sea oceanic crust beneath Borneo with deposition and subsequent of deep-marine sediments into an accretionary prism.

2. The collision and subduction of the South China Sea attenuated continental crust with Borneo in early Middle Miocene which led to the regional uplift and erosion of the accretionary prism resulting in the Deep Regional Unconformity. This was followed by NW progradation over the Inboard Belt from Middle Miocene to early Late Miocene.

3. Cessation of active subduction in middle late Miocene was accompanied by major tectonic activities. The Inboard Belt was subjected to strong compressional deformation, probably associated with deep-seated major N-S shear zones. The area was strongly folded, uplifted and eroded resulting in the Shallow Regional Unconformity. Transtensional tectonics at the western margin of the Belt resulted in the formation of two major depocentres, i.e. the Outboard Belt and the East Baram Delta.

4. From the Late Miocene to Holocene, the Inboard Belt remained a shallow and stable area which was continuously eroded till Stage IVF times. In the Outboard Belt and East Baram Delta, a thick prograding sedimentary wedge built out towards the northwest from Late Miocene to Holocene. A Late Pliocene phase of deformation affected mainly the Outboard Belt and East Baram Delta and gentle anticlinal features with numerous crestal faults were formed.