The petroleum trap for the Athabasca oil sands has remained elusive because it was destroyed by flexural loading of the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin during the Late Cretaceous and Paleocene. The original trap extent is preserved because the oil was biodegraded to immobile bitumen as the trap was being charged during the Late Cretaceous. Using well and outcrop data, it is possible to reconstruct the Cretaceous overburden horizons beyond the limit of present-day erosion. Sequential restoration of the reconstructed horizons reveals a megatrap at the top of the Wabiskaw-McMurray reservoir in the Athabasca area at 84 Ma (late Santonian). The megatrap is a four-way anticline with dimensions 285 × 125 km (177 × 78 mi) and maximum amplitude of 60 m (197 ft). The southeastern margin of the anticline shows good conformance to the bitumen edge for 140 km (87 mi). To the northeast of the anticline, bitumen is present in a shallower trap domain in what is interpreted to be an onlap trap onto the Canadian Shield; leakage along the onlap edge is indicated by tarry bitumen outliers preserved in basement rocks farther to the northeast. Peripheral trap domains that lie below the paleospillpoint, in northern, southern, and southwestern Athabasca, and Wabasca, are interpreted to represent a late charge of oil that was trapped by bitumen already emplaced in the anticline and the northeastern onlap trap. This is consistent with kimberlite intrusions containing live bitumen, which indicate that the northern trap domain was charged not before 78 Ma. The trap restoration has been tested using bitumen-water contact well picks. The restored picks fall into groups that are consistent both with the trap domains determined from the top reservoir restoration and the conceptual charge model in which the four-way anticline was filled first, followed by the northeastern onlap trap, and then the peripheral trap domains.

You do not currently have access to this article.