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Middle Eocene compression resulted in formation of the Sierra Madre Oriental fold and thrust belt and end-early Miocene compression resulted in formation of the Chiapas-Campeche fold and thrust belt. These events mask the importance of other periods of deformation, principally in the Middle–Late Jurassic, Late Cretaceous, and Paleogene. Deformation is represented by folding, thick-skinned thrusting, basin inversion, and development of major angular unconformities. Associated features include development of karstification, production of breccias, onlap, lowstand wedges, seeding of carbonate platforms, entry of siliciclastic sediments into carbonate basins, significant switches in input directions of clastic sedimentary systems, initiation of extensional tectonism basinward of the compressive deformation front and igneous activity.

We propose that, during the late Mesozoic and the Cenozoic, Pacific plate-margin compressive deformation often extended eastward into the Gulf of Mexico. Two main belts of deformation are identified, which are linked back to Pacific plate-margin processes by postulated deep-seated faults. The first and outer (easternmost) belt is seen on regional seismic lines as a long-wavelength, easterly facing, monoclonal fold that developed close to the transition of thick into thinned continental crust. The Sierra Madre Oriental is the second belt of which the structural history already has been well described in the literature. Where salt is present at depth, compressional events are expressed only as laterally propagated thin-skinned folds and thrusts.

These events are of critical importance in that they contribute many unique geologic features that cumulatively give Mexico a world-class petroleum system.

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