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The Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana is an important source of energy resources for the United States. Coalbed methane gas is contained in Tertiary and upper Cretaceous hydrogeologic units in the Powder River Basin. This gas is released when water pressure in coalbeds is lowered, usually by pumping ground water. Issues related to disposal and uses of by-product water from coalbed methane production have developed, in part, due to uncertainties in hydrologic properties. One hydrologic property of primary interest is the amount of water contained in Tertiary and upper Cretaceous hydrogeologic units in the Powder River Basin. The U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, conducted a study to describe the hydrogeologic framework and to estimate ground-water volumes in different facies of Tertiary and upper Cretaceous hydrogeologic units in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.
A geographic information system was used to compile and utilize hydrogeologic maps, to describe the hydrogeologic framework, and to estimate the volume of ground water in Tertiary and upper Cretaceous hydrogeologic units in the Powder River structural basin in Wyoming. Maps of the altitudes of potentiometric surfaces, altitudes of the tops and bottoms of hydrogeologic units, thicknesses of hydrogeologic units, percent sand of hydrogeologic units, and outcrop boundaries for the following hydrogeologic units were used: Tongue River-Wasatch aquifer, Lebo confining unit, Tullock aquifer, Upper Hell Creek confining unit, and the Fox Hills-Lower Hell Creek aquifer. Literature porosity values of 30 percent for sand and 35 percent for non-sand facies were used to calculate the volume of total ground water in each hydrogeologic unit. Literature specific yield values of 26 percent for sand and 10 percent for non-sand facies, and literature specific storage values of 0.0001 ft-1 (1/foot) for sand facies and 0.00001 ft-1 for non-sand facies, were used to calculate a second volume of ground water for each hydrogeologic unit. Significant figure considerations limited estimates of ground-water volumes to two significant digits.
A total ground-water volume of 2.0x1014 ft3 (cubic feet) was calculated using porosity values, and a total ground-water volume of 3.6x1013 ft3 was calculated using specific yield and specific storage values. These results are consistent with retention properties, which would have some of the total water being retained in the sediments.
Sensitivity analysis shows that the estimates of ground-water volume are most sensitive to porosity. The estimates also are sensitive to confined thickness and saturated thickness. Better spatial information for hydrogeologic units could help refine the ground-water volume estimates.
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Hydrogeologic framework and estimates of ground-water volumes in Tertiary and upper Cretaceous hydrogeologic units in the Powder River basin, Wyoming