Get access

Seismic evidence for fluid migration pathways from an overpressured system in the South China Sea


Corresponding author: X. Xie, Faculty of Earth Resources, China University of Geosciences, Wuhan 430074, China.
E-mail: Tel/fax: +86 27 87436251.


Overpressured systems and intense, anomalously hot fluid expulsion in the Yinggehai Basin of the South China Sea offer an opportunity to understand the history of fluid flow and the process of hydrocarbon accumulation in overpressured environments. Fluid migration pathways from overpressured compartments in the basin are largely controlled by the distribution of faults and fractures. Episodic opening of these faults are related to the dynamics of an overpressured system and tectonic movements during basin evolution. At the crests of diapiric structures, fluid expulsion is seismically imaged as chimney- or plume-like features, low to middle seismic amplitudes, and intermittently chaotic and blank reflecting seismic facies. These fluid pathways are controlled by vertical faults, which commonly penetrate overpressured and overlying normally pressured zones. Fluid expulsion is also observed near the main faults, such as the No. 1 Fault at the north-eastern margin of the basin. Investigation by sidescan sonar on onshore and offshore Hainan Island indicates that there are more than 100 gas seepages adjacent to the No. 1 Fault. Migration pathways in the diapiric structures are controlled by three types of fault and fracture. Penetrative faults formed by dextral strike-slip movement of the Red River faults commonly occur in the centre of the diapirs, and may have been a triggering factor for the diapirism, and controlled their distribution. Hydrofractures occur in certain mud-rich layers and may have been generated by hydraulic fracturing. Radial normal faults occur at the top of diapirs and were formed by the intrusive process. These fluid migration pathways played an important role in regional hydrocarbon accumulation.