Abstract

Release faults are rift cross faults, which develop to accommodate the variable displacements of the hanging-wall block along the strike of normal faults. Release faults are nearly perpendicular or obliquely oriented to the strike of the normal fault they are related to. They have maximum throws adjacent to the parent normal fault and die out in the hanging wall away from it. They form to release the bending stresses in the hanging wall and do not reflect the orientation of the regional stress field in a basin. Commonly, they show normal-oblique displacements and are preferentially located along the strike ramps. Release faults may also act at the scale of an entire basin, reaching displacements of thousands of meters. Joints, shale, and salt diapirs may develop in association with release faults. Because all these structures represent domains of stress release, they may work as conduits for oil migration and oil traps in extensional basins. This is the case of the Recôncavo basin in northeastern Brazil, a Cretaceous failed rift, connected to the eastern Brazilian continental margin basins. In the Recôncavo basin, two large-scale release faults, with displacements in the order of 3 km, developed in the hanging wall of the rift border faults and control the location of the main oil fields.

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