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Recent contraction in the NW Tarim Basin, China, has exhumed a thick (2–3 km) sequence of Upper Neoproterozoic to Lower Palaeozoic sediments that provide a unique insight into the early evolution of the basin. The sedimentary sequence was examined in outcrop and consists of a lower, 500-m-thick fluvial–lacustrine clastic and volcanic succession, conformably overlain by a 2000-m-thick shallow marine carbonate succession which records a major rifting event that initiated in the Late Neoproterozoic. This rifting event probably corresponds to the break-up of East Gondwana and the separation of the Tarim Block from a conjugate margin equivalent in NW Australia. The generation and infilling of rift basins creates a number of potential hydrocarbon plays, although analysis of individual play elements indicates a relatively high risk, despite the prevalence of hydrocarbons derived from the same rift sequence elsewhere in the basin.

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