From Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin (
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North Houston Landman's Association, Houston, Texas, February 14, 2002

Gassing up the Car and Turning on the Lights:
Plate Tectonics, Sedimentary Basins, and Hydrocarbon Reservoirs

Scott W. Tinker
Director, Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin
State Geologist of Texas


For less than the price of bottled water we can put a gallon of gas into a car, and for pennies a day, we can power a home. What miracles of nature and wonders of technology provide us these luxuries? Plate tectonics, once called "continental drift," is probably the most important concept developed in geosciences in the last 100 years. As plates move, ocean basins and continental masses collide, forming mountain ranges and sedimentary basins. In these sedimentary basins, organic material is deposited, buried, and cooked to become a source rock for oil and gas. Oil and gas migrate from the original source rock along permeable rock and fracture pathways into reservoir rocks, and become trapped by overlying impermeable rocks, called seals. The result is the formation of an oil or gas reservoir. Hydrocarbons (oil, natural gas, and coal) supply approximately 85% of all energy consumed in the United States today. Hydrocarbons literally fuel our economy and our society. I hope to convey over the course of an hour a basic understanding of earth forces and natural processes that produce the energy of our world.