Colin Campbell speaks about South China Seas

Interview: Dr. Colin Campbell - Petroleum Geologist
27th February 2003
Telephone to Ballydehob, Ireland

Q1: Can you tell us about oil and gas prospects in the South China Seas?

A: Well, the South China Sea, the first thing I have to say is that the critical element in evaluating an oil province is the source rock. Without a source you don’t have anything, and these source rocks are really rather rare. They can occur at more or less any time in the geological past but the great, prolific source rocks which reflect epochs of global warming earlier on are very rare. There’s one about a hundred million years ago and there’s one about a hundred and fifty million years ago. And there’s some older ones, but much of the oil from there has already escaped over geological time.

But when we look at the circum-Pacific area you find that anything older than about 60 million years is crystalline rocks; it’s deformed and it’s volcanic and it doesn’t have any prospects. So you are dependent then on whatever the early rifts and openings of the tertiary might deliver. They do deliver a bit, but it isn’t a prolific province by any stretch of the imagination.

So, first of all, going back to talk about the South China Sea, of course it’s a huge area, that has to be admitted, and it’s also subject to boundary disputes between the neighboring countries. It’s often the case where territory is somehow closed for artificial reasons it’s always perceived to have enormous oil prospects. There’s a place called the Spratly Islands which is east of Viet Nam, which is claimed by the Philippines and China and Viet Nam and Malaysia, and goodness knows who. Somehow this has got the reputation of just being full of oil but there’s really no real firm evidence that that’s the case. It’s just that people always think that when there’s some reason they can’t get there. So there have been some finds made offshore, smallish, and I don’t think it’s going to be a major oil province.