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 Plate Tectonic Stories

Alpine Deformation, Albania

Maja e Thatë

Maja e Thate in the Albanian Alps: ©  Empathictrust

The edge of the great Alpine mountain ranges form sweeping arcs through the Mediterranean region and on into the Middle East. One of these runs down the eastern coast of the Adriatic forming ranges of limestone hills – brought up in a series of long folds (anticlines). The limestones were deposited around the edge of the ancient Tethys ocean that once separated the European continent from Africa. In Albania the folds and the fractured limestones of these hills host important oil fields.

  Albanian Mountains
  Albanian Mountains: © Stanisław Ludwiński
The history of hydrocarbon exploitation in Albania stretches back to Roman times when bitumen was mined close to surface seeps. But the development of subsurface oil began in the early 1900s. One field, Patos Marinza, is the largest producing onshore field in Europe. It lies in stacked up slices of limestones, chiefly of Cretaceous to Eocene age (c 150-45 million years old) that were carried by plate collision, westwards towards Italy. So like oil fields in the Wessex Basin, along the Purbeck monocline seen at Lulworth, it is deformation related to Alpine mountain building that contributed to trapping oil reserves in the subsurface in Albania. And this type of deformation also forms structural traps for oil and gas all along the greater Alpine chain – into the Zagros mountains of Iraq and Iran , the Himalayan foothills and the outer uplands of Papua New Guinea.