Analysis of three-dimensional seismic data from the lower Congo Basin, offshore Angola, reveals numerous fluid-flow features in the Miocene to Holocene succession and the potential for large, shielded traps underneath basinward overhanging salt structures. The fluid-flow evidence includes present-day sea floor pockmarks clustered above salt structures, Pliocene–Pleistocene stacked paleopockmarks and Miocene pockmark fields. Other fluid-flow features include high-amplitude cylindrical pipe structures 60 to 300 m (197–984 ft) wide and 25 to 300 m (82–984 ft) high within lower and middle Miocene strata, thick (<150 m [492 ft]) high-reflectivity zones within the Pliocene succession associated with bottom-simulating reflections, and subvertical low-amplitude chimneys originating from the deeper section (>1 km [0.6 mi] beneath the sea floor). The Miocene pockmark fields occur at a specific horizon, suggesting a regional fluid expulsion event at ca. 12 Ma, and the Miocene fluid-flow regime is interpreted to be dominated by thermogenic fluids supplied via carrier beds and leaking vertically above structural highs. The Pliocene–Pleistocene fluid-flow regime was dominated by short-distance vertical fluid migration and expulsion related to early stage diagenetic processes involving biogenic methane and pore water. The present-day fluid-flow regime is inferred to be dominated by thermogenic fluids primarily controlled by kilometer-scale salt-flank-controlled migration.
The study emphasizes the use of seismically imaged fluid-flow features in hydrocarbon systems analysis by documenting the evolution of an overburden plumbing system through time, involving several fluid types and flow regimes, depending on the spatiotemporal availability of thermogenic and diagenetic fluids and the tectonostratigraphic occurrence of aquifers, traps, and seals.