Bulletin of the Geological Society of Malaysia, Volume 74, November 2022, pp. 135 – 160
The structural-stratigraphic framework and petroleum systems of the Sandakan Basin, offshore East Sabah, Malaysia
Mazlan Madon1,*, John Jong2
1 Malaysian Continental Shelf Project, National Security Council, c/o 11th Floor Wisma JUPEM, Jalan Semarak, 50578 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
2 JX Nippon Oil and Gas Exploration (Malaysia) Ltd., Level 15, Menara Prestige, No. 1, Jalan Pinang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
* Corresponding author email address: email@example.com
Abstract: Decades of exploration activities in the Sandakan Basin offshore eastern Sabah, Malaysia, since the 1970s have yet to yield commercial hydrocarbon discoveries. Of the nineteen wells that have been drilled in the basin up to 2015, only five are classified as discoveries, all made between 1970 and 1995. There are essentially two main proven play types: (1) Early to Middle Miocene “Segama play”, in which the reservoir targets are the Tanjong Formation equivalents within the Segama Group, which were deposited as part of the synrift sequence. (2) Middle to Late Miocene “Sebahat play” in which the reservoirs belong to the Sebahat Formation, characterised by prograding deltaic shoreface and shelf sequences, advancing eastwards and southwards from an uplifting hinterland in central and northern Sabah. The best reservoir facies are shoreface sands, which have porosities greater than 20%, particularly at depths shallower than ~2000 m. Although the generative source rocks have not been penetrated, geochemical data indicate that they are present at depths greater than 3200 m. The source rocks are characterised by predominantly Type III and Types II/III organic matter, which are typical of deltaic settings. The data indicate that hydrocarbons were generated by source rocks with a maturity range of 0.7 – 0.8% vitrinite reflectance (Ro). The Sandakan Basin was affected by several compressional deformation events which are expressed as major erosional unconformities; most significantly, the Middle Miocene (“D2 event”, 13.0 Ma) and Late Miocene (“D3 event”, 8.6 Ma). The unconformities were the result of compression and faulting which, while being responsible for trap formation, may also pose significant risk to trap integrity and preservation. Modelling results indicate that hydrocarbon generation and migration took place during Late Miocene–Early Pliocene and continues today. The basin’s prospectivity, therefore, critically depends on the delicate interplay between the timing of trap formation and hydrocarbon migration. Understanding these processes requires detailed understanding of the structural evolution and petroleum systems of the basin.
Keywords: Sandakan Basin, East Sabah, structure, stratigraphy, hydrocarbons, petroleum systems
Barr, D.C., 1991. Paleoenvironmental and lithofacies study of nine wells in the SB-6 Block,
offshore Sabah. WMC Petroleum, Unpublished Report, 58 p.
CCOP (Coordinating Committee for Geoscience Programmes in East and Southeast Asia), 2008. Sulu Sea
– East Sabah Basin case study, capacity building within Geoscience in East and
Southeast Asia Project. 259 p.
Clennell, B., 1991. The origin and tectonic significance of melanges of Eastern Sabah, Malaysia.
In: Nichols, G. & Hall, R. (Eds.), Proceedings of the Orogenesis in Action
Conference, London 1990. Journal of Southeast Asian Earth Sciences, 6, 407-425.
Clennell, B., 1996. Far-field and gravity tectonics in Miocene Basins of Sabah, Malaysia. In: Hall,
R. & Blundell, D.J. (Eds.), Tectonic evolution of Southeast Asia.
Geological Society of London Special Publication, 106, 307-320.
Cottam, M., Hall, R., Sperber, C., & Armstrong, R., 2010. Pulsed emplacement of layered granite:
New high-precision age data from Mount Kinabalu, North Borneo. Journal of the
Geological Society of London, 176, 49-60.
Cullen, A.B., Reemst, P., Henstra, G., Gozzard, S., & Ray, A., 2010. Rifting of the South China
Sea: New perspectives. Petroleum Geoscience, 16, 273-282.
Haile, N.S., & Wong, N.P.Y., 1965. The geology and mineral resources of the Dent Peninsula,
Sabah. Geological Survey, Borneo Region, Malaysia, Memoir 16.
Hall, R., 2013. Contraction and extension in northern Borneo driven by subduction rollback.
Journal of Asian Earth Sciences, 76, 399–411.
Hall, R., van Hattum, M.W.A., & Spakman, W., 2008a. Impact of India–Asia collision on SE Asia:
The record in Borneo. Tectonophysics, 451, 366–389.
Haris, M.F., Che Kob, M.R., Ismail, M.I., Mat Isa, Z., Abu Naim, J., & Buckingham, A., 2015. Full
Tensor Gradiometry (FTG) – impactful reconnaissance tool for exploration and
overall tectonic understanding. Petronas Asia Petroleum Geoscience Conference
and Exhibition 2015, 12-13 October, Kuala Lumpur
Hutchison, C.S., 1988. Stratigraphic-tectonic model for eastern Borneo. Bulletin of the
Geological Society of Malaysia, 22, 135-151.
Hutchison, C.S., 1992. The Southeast Sulu Sea, a Neogene marginal basin with outcropping
extensions in Sabah. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Malaysia, 32,
Hutchison, C.S., 2005. Geology of North-West Borneo. Elsevier, Amsterdam. 421 p.
ICS (International Commission on Stratigraphy), 2021. International Chronostratigraphic Chart.
Interactive Web Version, https://stratigraphy.org/timescale/ Last accessed 13
ISIS, 2005. SB305 Offshore Sabah, Malaysia: Geological and geophysical basin studies report.
Petronas Carigali Sdn. Bhd. Unpublished internal report.
JMG, 2021. Geological Map of Sabah, online map. Department of Minerals and Geoscience Malaysia.
https://www.jmg.gov.my/en/awam/penerbitan/peta-gis-dalam-talian. Last accessed,
28 March 2022.
Jong, J., & Futalan, K., 2015. Structural interpretation, seismic facies analysis and
depositional model of offshore Sandakan sub-basin. Asia Petroleum Geoscience
Conference and Exhibition 2015, 12-13 October, Kuala Lumpur Convention Center,
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Jong, J., & Ho, F., 2001. A regional overview of the Northwest Borneo margin. Unpublished
Sarawak/Sabah Shell Report.
Jong, J., Harun Alrashid bin Mohamad Idris, Barber, P., Kessler, F.L., Tran, T.Q., &
Uchimura, R., 2017. Exploration history and petroleum systems of the onshore
Baram Delta, Northern Sarawak. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Malaysia,
Jong, J., Mohd. Asraf Khamis, Wan M. Zaizuri Wan Embong, Yoshiyama, T., & Gillies, D., 2016. A
sequence stratigraphic case study of an exploration permit in deepwater Sabah :
Comparison and lesson learned from pre- versus post-drill evaluation.
Proceedings of the 39th IPA Convention and Exhibition, Jakarta Convention
Lai, C.-K., Xia, X.-P., Hall, R., Meffre, S., Tsikouras, B., Rosana Balangue-Tarriela, M. I.,
Idrus, A., Ifandi, E., & Norazme, N., 2021. Cenozoic evolution of the Sulu
Sea arc-basin system: An overview. Tectonics, 40, e2020TC006630. https://doi.org/10.1029/2020TC006630.
Leong, K.M., 1999. Geological setting of Sabah. In: PETRONAS “The Petroleum Geology and Resources
of Malaysia”, Chapter 21, 475-497.
Leong, K.M., & Azlina, A., 1999. Northeast Sabah Basin. In: PETRONAS “The Petroleum Geology
and Resources of Malaysia”, Chapter 23, 545-569.
Levell, B.K., 1987. The nature and significance of regional unconformity in the hydrocarbon-bearing
Neogene sequence offshore West Sabah. Bulletin of the Geological Society of
Malaysia, 21, 55-90.
Li, C.-F., Lin, J., Kulhanek, D.K., & the Expedition 349 Scientists, 2015. In: Proceedings of
the International Ocean Discovery Program, 349: South China Sea Tectonics.
International Ocean Discovery Program, College Station, TX.
Liu, H.‐Q., Yumul, G.P., Jr, Dimalanta, C.B., Queaño, K., Xia, X.‐P., Peng,
T.‐P., Lan, J.B., Xu, Y.G., Yan, Y., Guotana, J.M.R., & Olfindo,
V.S., 2019. Western Northern Luzon isotopic evidence of transition from
proto‐south China Sea to South China Sea fossil ridge subduction.
Tectonics, 39, e2019TC005639. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019TC005639.
Lunt, P., & Madon, M., 2017. Onshore to offshore correlation of northern Borneo; a regional
perspective. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Malaysia, 64, 101-122.
Madon, M., 1999. Basin types, tectono-stratigraphic provinces, and structural styles. In:
PETRONAS “The Petroleum Geology and Resources of Malaysia”, Chapter 6, 77-111.
Peters, K.E., Snedden, J.W., Sulaeman, A., Sarg, J.F., & Enrico, R.J., 2000. A new
geochemical-sequence stratigraphic model for the Mahakam Delta and Makassar
Slope, Kalimantan, Indonesia. American Association of Petroleum Geologists
Bulletin, 84, 12-44.
PCSB, 2005. Block SB-305 Brief Review and Farm-out. Petronas Carigali Sdn. Bhd. Unpublished
PETRONAS, 2012. Pahu-1 Well Proposal. Unpublished PETRONAS Report.
PETRONAS, 2015. Pendekar-1 Well Evaluation Report. Unpublished PETRONAS Report.
Scibiorski, J., Jong, J., Rosser, J., Boss, P., & Cassie, B., 2009. Prospectivity and exploration
challenges of SC41 Deepwater Sandakan Basin, South Sulu Sea. SEAPEX Exploration
Conference, 20-24 April 2009, Singapore.
Shell, 2003. NW Borneo Shelf Basin framework study. Unpublished Shell Report.
Sun, W., 2016. Initiation and evolution of the South China Sea: An overview. Acta Geochimica,
35, 215–225. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11631-016-0110-x.
Tan, D.N.K., Abdul Hadi b. Abd. Rahman, Azlina Anuar, Bait, B., & Chow, K.T., 1999. West Baram
Delta. In: PETRONAS “The Petroleum Geology and Resources of Malaysia”, Chapter
6, Chapter 13, 293-341.
Tjia, H.D., Komoo, I., Lim, P.S., & Surat, T., 1990. The Maliau Basin, Sabah: Geology and
tectonic setting. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Malaysia, 27, 261-292.
van Hattum, M.W.A., Hall, R., Pickard, A.L., & Nichols, G.J., 2006. SE Asian sediments not from
Asia: Provenance and geochronology of North Borneo sandstones. Geology, 34,
van Vliet, A., & Schwander, M.M., 1987. Stratigraphic interpretation of a regional seismic
section across the Labuan Syncline and its flank structures, Sabah, North
Borneo. In: Bally, A.W., (Ed.), Atlas of seismic stratigraphy. AAPG Studies in
Geology #27, 3, 163-167.
Velosi, 2008. Well post-mortem evaluation prospectivity reassessment, offshore Sandakan Sub-basin,
NE Sabah. Part B, vol. 4. RPS Energy Report for Petronas Carigali Sdn. Bhd.
Walker, T.R., 1993. Sandakan Basin prospects rise following modern reappraisal. Oil and Gas
Journal, May 10, 1993, 43-47.
Weeden, R., 1993. Review of WMC-Malaysia Permit SB-6. Unpublished internal report.
Wheeler, H.E., 1958. Time stratigraphy. American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin,
WMC, 1994. Regional geological/geophysical cross sections, Western Mining Corp. Unpublished
WMC, 1995. SB-6 Block Summary. Technical committee meeting report, Western Mining Corp. Unpublished
Wong, R.H.F., 1993. Sequence stratigraphy of the Middle Miocene Pliocene, southern offshore
Sandakan Basin, East Sabah. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Malaysia, 33,
Wong, R.H.F., 1997. Sequence stratigraphy of the Upper Miocene Stage IVC in the Labuan-Paisley
Syncline, Northwest Sabah Basin. Bulletin of the Geological Society of
Malaysia, 41, 53-60.
Zhu, Z., Yi, Y., Qi, Z., Carter, A., & Amir Hassan, M.H., 2022. Subduction history of the
Proto-South China Sea: Evidence from the Cretaceous – Miocene strata records of
Borneo. Earth and Space Science Open Archive.
Manuscript received 12 May 2022
Received in revised form 24 September 2022
Accepted 3 October 2022
Available online 30 November 2022
0126-6187; 2637-109X / Published by the Geological Society of Malaysia.
© 2022 by the Author(s). This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) License 4.0.