Tertiary geology and oil-shale resources of the Piceance Creek basin between the Colorado and White Rivers, northwestern Colorado
- John R. Donnell
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- Larger Work: This publication is Chapter L of Contributions to economic geology, 1958
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The area of the Piceance Creek basin between the Colorado and White Rivers includes approximately 1,600 square miles and is characterized by an extensive plateau that rises 1,000 to more than 4,000 feet above the surrounding lowlands. Relief is greatest in Naval Oil-Shale Reserves Nos. 1 and 3 near the south margin of the area, where the spectacular Roan Cliffs tower above the valley of the Colorado River.
The oldest rocks exposed in the mapped area are sandstone, shale, and coal beds of the Mesaverde group of Late Cretaceous age, which crop out along the east margin of the area. Overlying the Mesaverde is an unnamed sequence of dark-colored sandstone and shale, Paleocene in age. The Ohio Creek conglomerate, composed of black and red chert and quartzite pebbles in a white sandstone matrix, is probably the basal unit in the Paleocene sequence. The Wasatch formation of early Eocene age overlies the Paleocene sedimentary rocks. It is composed of brightly colored shale, lenticular beds of sandstone, and a few thin beds of fresh-water limestone. The Kasatch formation interfingers with and is overlain by the Green River formation of middle Eocene age.
The Green River formation has been divided into the Douglas Creek, Garden Gulch, Anvil Points, Parachute Creek, and Evacuation Creek members. The basal and uppermost members, the Douglas Creek and Evacuation Creek, respectively, are predominantly sandy units. The two middle members, the Garden Gulch and Parachute Creek, are composed principally of finer clastic rocks. The Anvil Points member is present only on the southeast, east, and northeast margins of the area. It is a nearshore facies composed principally of sandstone and is the equivalent of the Douglas Creek, Garden Gulch, and the lower part of the Parachute Creek members.
All of the richer exposed oil-shale beds are found in the Parachute Creek member, which is divided into two oil-shale zones by a series of low-grade oilshale beds. The upper oil-shale zone has several key beds and zones which can be traced throughout most of the mapped area. One of these, the Mahogany ledge or zone, is a group of very rich oil-shale beds at the base of the upper oil-shale zone. Drilling for oil and gas in the northeastern part of the area has revealed rich oil-shale zones in the Garden Gulch member also.
Local unconformities within and at the base of the Evacuation Creek member are exposed at several places along Piceance Creek and at one place near the mouth of Yellow Creek; otherwise, the rock sequence is conformable.
The mapped area is the major part of a large syncline, modified by numerous smaller structural features. Fractures, probably associated genetically with the minor structural features, are present in the central part of the area. These fractures are high-angle normal faults with small displacement. They occur in pairs with the intervening block downdropped. Two sets of joints are prominent, one trending northwest and the other northeast. The joint systems control the drainage pattern in the south-central part of the area.
More than 20,000 feet of sedimentary rocks underlies the area. Many of the formations yield oil or gas in northwestern Colorado, northeastern Utah, and southwestern Wyoming. The Piceance Creek gas field, in which gas occurs in the Douglas Creek member of the Green River formation, is the largest oil or gas field discovered thus far within the area.
About 7,000 million barrels of oil is contained in oil shale that yields an average of 45 gallons per ton from a continuous sequence 5 or more feet thick in the Mahogany zone. Oil shale in the Mahogany zone and adjacent beds that yields an average of 30 gallons of oil per ton from a continuous sequence 15 or more feet thick contains about 91,000 million barrels of oil. Similar shale in deeper zones in the northern part of the area, for which detailed estimates have not been prepared, are now known to contain at least an additional 72,000 million barrels of oil. Oil shale in a sequence 15 or more feet thick that yields an average of 25 gallons of oil per ton contains about 154,000 million barrels of oil in the Mahogany zone and adjacent beds; such shale in deeper zones in the northern part of the area probably contains at least an additional 157,000 million barrels of oil, although detailed estimates were not made. Oil shale in a sequence greater than 15 feet thick that yields an average of 15 gallons of oil per ton contains more than 900,000 million barrels of oil. These estimates of the oil content of the deposit do not take into account any loss in mining or processing of the shale.
Additional publication details
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- USGS Numbered Series
- Tertiary geology and oil-shale resources of the Piceance Creek basin between the Colorado and White Rivers, northwestern Colorado
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- U.S. Government Printing Office
- Report: v, 56 p.; 7 Plates: 33.54 x 39.62 inches or smaller
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- USGS Numbered Series
- Larger Work Title:
- Contributions to economic geology, 1958
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- United States
- Other Geospatial:
- Colorado River, Piceance Creek basin, White River