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Open-File Report 00-372: Geologic Setting


Water co-produced with coalbed methane in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming: preliminary compositional data


Rice, C.A., Ellis, M.S., and Bullock, J.H., Jr.

Open File-Report 00-372


Powder River Basin geology is described by Ellis and others (1998), Flores and Bader (1999), and Flores and others (1999) and summarized below. The Powder River Basin includes over 12,000 square miles (Fig. 1). It is an asymmetrical structural and sedimentary basin with an axis that trends northwest to southeast on the western side. Coalbed methane is currently produced from coal reservoirs in the Paleocene Tongue River and Lebo Shale Members of the Fort Union Formation. The Fort Union Formation crops out along the margin of the Powder River Basin and, in much of the study area, is overlain by the Eocene Wasatch Formation (Fig. 1). Fort Union rocks dip an average of 20 to 25 degrees to the east along the western margin of the basin, and have an average dip of 2 to 5 degrees to the west on the eastern margin of the basin. The formation reaches a maximum of over 6,000 ft in thickness in the deepest part (along the axis) of the basin. 

The Fort Union Formation contains conglomerate, sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone, with minor amounts of limestone, coal, and carbonaceous shale. Coal in the formation ranges from a few inches to over 200 ft thick, with an average thickness of 25 ft. The Fort Union was deposited in fluvial environments that consisted of braided, meandering, and anastomosed streams in the center of the basin, and alluvial plains along the basin margins (Flores and others, 1999). Coal developed from peat that accumulated in low-lying swamps and in raised or domed mires, in fluvial floodplains, abandoned fluvial channels, and interchannel environments. The thickest coal beds developed from peat that accumulated in raised mires, which formed above drainage level (Flores and others, 1999). The coal beds either split laterally or pinch out in areas where the peat was incised by fluvial channels, now represented by sandstone; or was inundated with overbank, floodplain, or floodplain-lake deposits, now represented by mudstone (Fig. 2).

The stratigraphic relationship of coal beds in the Fort Union Formation is very complex. The beds merge, split, and pinch out within short distances. Therefore, targeted coalbed methane beds vary across the basin (Fig. 2 and Fig. 3). Much of the CBM development is concentrated in the Wyodak-Anderson coal zone, although other beds and zones are locally being targeted as well (Fig. 3). Because of the complex stratigraphy, correlation and nomenclature problems have arisen in the basin. According to operator completion reports filed with the WOGCC, the Tongue River Member coal beds producing coalbed methane in the sampled wells include the Wyodak, Anderson, Canyon, Cook, Big George, Wall, and Pawnee. Two of the reservoirs, identified as the Cache and Moyer, are in the Lebo Shale Member. Also, in the operator completion reports, if the name of the coal bed was not known, the operator designated the producing unit as Fort Union. In an effort to clarify some of the correlation and nomenclature problems, the U.S. Geological Survey is currently working with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the WOGCC to standardize coalbed nomenclature (Flores, R.M., personal communication).

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