New Vitrinite Reflectance Data for the Bighorn Basin, North-Central Wyoming and South-Central Montana

Open-File Report 2007-1246

ORCID iD and



Introduction The Bighorn Basin is a large Laramide (Late Cretaceous through Eocene) structural and sedimentary basin that encompasses about 10,400 mi2 in north-central Wyoming and south-central Montana (fig. 1). Important conventional oil and gas resources have been discovered and produced from reservoirs ranging in age from Cambrian through Tertiary (Fox and Dolton, 1989, 1996a, b; De Bruin, 1993). In addition, a potential unconventional basin-centered gas accumulation may be present in Cretaceous reservoirs (Johnson and Finn, 1998; Johnson and others, 1999). The purpose of this report is to present new vitrinite reflectance data to be used in support of the U.S Geological Survey's assessment of undiscovered oil and gas resources of the Bighorn Basin. These new data supplement previously published data by Nuccio and Finn (1998), and Yin (1997), and lead to a better understanding and characterization of the thermal maturation and burial history of potential source rocks. Eighty-nine samples of Cretaceous and Tertiary strata (fig. 2) were collected and analyzed - 15 samples were from outcrops around the margins of the basin and 74 samples were well cuttings (fig. 1). Forty-one of the samples were shale, two were carbonaceous shale, and the remainder from coal. All samples were analyzed by vitrinite reflectance to determine levels of thermal maturation. Preparation of samples for reflectance analysis required (1) crushing the larger pieces into 0.25-to 1-mm pieces, (2) casting the pieces with epoxy in pre-cut and drilled plugs, and (3) curing the samples overnight. Subsequently, a four-step grinding and polishing process was implemented that included sanding with progressively finer sandpaper (60 and 600 grit) followed with a two-step polishing process (0.3 and 0.05 micron). Vitrinite reflectance measurements were determined at 500 X magnification using plane-polarized incident white light and a 546-nm monochromatic filter in immersion oil. For samples containing sufficiently high quality vitrinite, at least 25 measurements were recorded. For samples of poorer quality, either due to a poor polish or to the presence of mineral or other inorganic material, fewer measurements were recorded. Analytical results are given in tables 1 and 2.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
New Vitrinite Reflectance Data for the Bighorn Basin, North-Central Wyoming and South-Central Montana
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Version 1.0
Year Published:
Geological Survey (U.S.)
Contributing office(s):
Central Energy Resources Team
iii, 9 p.