The Mesozoic–Tertiary Aquitaine basin overlaps the Aquitaine block and the northern edge of the Iberian margin. Both units are situated in the southwesternmost part of the European Continent. The Aquitaine shelf is a stable platform overlying a relatively thin crustal segment; it underwent extensional block faulting and many of its folded structures are related to salt tectonism. The Iberian block is a thicker lithospheric unit that acted as a buttress. At the junction of these two structural domains the South Aquitaine or North Pyrenean area developed, where crustal stretching, rifting, wrenching, and orogenic compression were maximal from the Mesozoic to the Tertiary.
The history of the basin has been a suite of rifting attempts, in the context of the progressive opening of the Bay of Biscay, which never completely succeeded. The relative plate motions and the later convergence led, nevertheless, to the formation of the Aquitaine basin and to the emergence of the Pyrenean fold belt.
The Mesozoic–Tertiary sedimentary infill of the basin is mostly marine, with thick evaporites, stable platform carbonates, subsiding platform shaly-calcareous deposits, and a characteristic, diachronous turbiditic (flysch) and molasse complex.
Events during the basin-forming, extensional, and translational periods contributed more to the generation of the hydrocarbon accumulations than did the effects of the subsequent compressive structural regime. The latter, however, may have enhanced thermal flow and, thus, maturation of hydrocarbon source rocks.