Despite of negative results in finding giant and large fields during the last 10–15 yr, the North Caspian basin still remains a highly prospective frontier. Complex geology, great depths to the main subsalt plays, and poor resolution of most seismic surveys caused by the presence of thick deformed salt are responsible for the lack of exploration success. However, the potential for finding world-class fields continues to attract the interest of major international oil companies despite the economic and political instability of the region.
Several regional plays, which were defined approximately 15 yr ago, are still believed to contain the principal undiscovered potential. Among these plays, carbonate banks of the Tengiz type located offshore are certainly the most obvious prospects. Primary risks related to this play include salt seal integrity and the resulting preservation of hydrocarbons and expected oil versus gas hydrocarbon phase. The Kashagan well, presently in drilling, will soon provide data on some of these uncertainties. Isolated atolls and pinnacle reefs similar to Karacha-ganak remain the most attractive targets along the entire northern and western basin margins. However, very limited progress has been recorded in pursuing this play since the discovery of the Karachaganak field primarily because of the very deep occurrence of the prospects. No significant new fields were found in the structural trap play of the Zhanazhol type on the eastern margin. The Mesozoic salt-dome play is undoubtedly highly potential, but not for giant and very large fields. Presently, few players are pursuing these prospects.
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Throughout time, the greater Caspian area has maintained its position as one of the major petroleum provinces in the world. Its early history as a prolific producer of oil is well known. Caspian region exploration dates to the seventh century B.C., during the time of the Median Kingdom in today's southern Azerbaijan. Oil played an important role in the everyday lives of these ancient tribes of the region, and it is still a very important commodity today. The past two decades have seen many important advances in our knowledge of the geological evolution of hydrocarbon-bearing sedimentary basins. The success of modern exploration is, to a large extent, based on new advances in both deep and 3-D seismic imaging, as well as improved pressure-prediction and pre-drill oil and gas quality predictive methodologies, to mention just a few. Nevertheless, large areas of the greater Caspian region have remained unexplored due to a variety of factors such as deep-water conditions and zones with high pore-pressures in the South Caspian Sea and The Black Sea, and vast shallow-water regions with harsh winter ice conditions in the North Caspian Sea. This publication contains 12 extended abstracts and 6 full-length papers that discuss technology development, challenges in estimating proven and potential reserves, outcrop-based studies of potential reservoirs, regional tectonics and geodynamic evolution, and source rock and stratigraphic analyses of the greater Caspian area.