Abstract The Ombilin Basin is filled by late Eocene to early Oligocene marginal fan deposits (Brani Formation) and lacustrine shales (Sangkarewang Formation), unconformably overlain by a late Oligocene to early Miocene fluvial sequence (Sawahlunto and Sawahtambang Formations) and capped by an early to mid-Miocene marine sequence (Ombilin Formation). Significant oil shale deposits occur in the Sangkarewang Formation, intercalated with thin laminated greenish-grey calcareous sandstones. X-ray diffraction shows that the sediments consist mainly of quartz, feldspar, carbonates and a range of clay minerals, together in some cases with minor proportions of sulphides, evaporites and zeolites. Feldspar and non-kaolinite clay minerals decrease up the sequence, relative to kaolinite, suggesting a changing sediment source as the basin was filled. Calcite, thought to be mainly of authigenic origin, is also more abundant in the middle and upper parts of the sequence. The organic matter in the oil shales of the sequence is dominated by liptinite macerals, particularly alginite (mainly lamalginite) and sporinite. Cutinite also occurs in some samples, along with resinite and traces of bituminite. The dominance of lamalginite in the liptinite components suggests that the material can be described as a lamosite. Samples from the Sangkarewang Formation have vitrinite reflectance values ranging between 0.37% and 0.55%. These are markedly lower than the vitrinite reflectance for coal from the overlying Sawahlunto Formation (0.68%), possibly due to suppression associated with the abundant liptinite in the oil shales. Fischer assay data on outcrop samples indicate that the oil yield is related to the organic carbon content. Correlations with XRD data show that, with one exception, the oil yield and organic carbon can also be correlated directly to the abundance of carbonate (calcite) and inversely to the abundance of quartz plus feldspar. This suggests that the abundance of algal material in the lake sediments was preferentially associated with carbonate deposition. High yields of oil are noted in some samples, as a percentage of the organic carbon content. This may indicate that partial generation of hydrocarbons from the material has already taken place, in association with thermal maturation of the Sangkarewang succession.