Pricaspian basin geology is reviewed in the light of 500,000 km of seismic profiles and several thousand wells. We focus on how hydrocarbons from three sources accumulated in relation to the 1800 salt structures in a basin that changed little in planform from the Devonian to the Paleogene. Riphean to Carboniferous shelf sedimentary strata are still flat lying between a poorly known crystalline basement and a base of salt now 10 km deep. Slow and almost continuous sedimentation in the basin center downbuilt huge massifs in Permian salt initially 4.5 km thick. Basin sediments are flat lying or backtilted between down-to-basin growth faults along northern and western margins starved of sediments. By contrast, progradation of Permian sediments from the Urals, Triassic sediments from the South Emba shear zone, and Jurassic sediments from the Dombass-Tuarkyr fold belt downbuilt successive waves of salt structures basinward from margins in the east, southeast and then the south. A zone of salt overhangs records extrusion that starved basin-marginal salt structures, particularly during a basinwide hiatus in the Early Jurassic. Salt diapirs along polygonal normal faults rooting to the crests of still-potent salt structures through Cretaceous–Paleogene strata indicate that salt upbuilt back to the surface and resumed downbuilding. Coarse clastic fans infill deep canyons incised across the basin by rivers draining to the Caspian in Pliocene times.

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