In prospective basins affected by exhumation, uncertainty commonly exists regarding the maximum burial depths of source, reservoir, and seal horizons. One such basin is the Otway Basin, an important gas province in southeastern Australia, which has witnessed several exhumation events. Here, we present estimates of net exhumation magnitudes for 110 onshore and offshore petroleum wells based on the sonic transit time analyses of Lower Cretaceous fluvial shales. Our results show significant post-Albian net exhumation in the eastern onshore Otway Basin (>1500 m [∼4920 ft]) and a generally minor net exhumation (<200 m [∼655 ft]) elsewhere in the Otway Basin, consistent with estimates based on thermal history data. The distribution of net exhumation magnitudes in relation to mid-Cretaceous and Neogene compressional structures indicates that exhumation was dominantly controlled by short-wavelength basin inversion driven by plate-boundary forces.

Deeper burial coupled with high geothermal gradients in the onshore eastern Otway Basin and along the northern basin margin during the early Cretaceous have rendered Lower Cretaceous source rocks mostly overmature, with any remaining hydrocarbons from the initial charge likely to be trapped in tightly compacted reservoirs and/or secondary (fracture-related) porosity. However, the embrittlement of these reservoirs during their deeper burial may present opportunities for the development of low-permeability plays through hydraulic fracturing where smectite clay minerals are illitized. Source rocks at near-maximum burial at present day are at temperatures suitable for gas generation, with key controls on prospectivity in these areas including the sealing potential of faulted traps and the relationship between charge and trap development.

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