An Assessment of the Economic Potential of Lignite and Leonardite Resources in the Williston Basin, North Dakota

Open-File Report 2020-1135
Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management
By:

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Abstract

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) requested assistance from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to conduct an assessment study to identify areas that may have economic potential for the future extraction of lignite and leonardite resources in the Williston Basin in North Dakota. The study will be used by the BLM to assist with the preparation of a revised resource management plan for the Williston Basin, in accordance with BLM planning policies.

The assessment of the economic potential of lignite resources required the establishment of criteria defining an economic lignite deposit. In consultation with the BLM, criteria were established to delineate drill holes that contained economic lignite beds. The criteria established are a minimum lignite bed thickness, a minimum cumulative lignite thickness, a maximum cumulative stripping ratio, and a maximum overburden. Likewise, an assessment of the economic potential of leonardite deposits required the establishment of criteria delineating drill holes that contained economic leonardite deposits. The criteria established are a minimum leonardite bed thickness, a minimum cumulative leonardite thickness, and a maximum overburden.

The drill hole data utilized in this study were obtained from the National Coal Resources Data System database and from several coal companies. Data from more than 20,000 drill holes, both proprietary and nonproprietary, were used to compile areas of economic potential for lignite or leonardite.

Areas delineated as having lignite or leonardite resources with economic potential, based on the established criteria, were present in 24 counties in the western portion of North Dakota. Areas of economic potential were delineated using a visual best-fit method without croplines. Areas defined as having economic potential for certain lignite beds or leonardite deposits may extend beyond known croplines in this study.

Stratigraphically, the lignite and leonardite deposits in the Williston Basin in North Dakota are mostly found in the Paleocene Fort Union Formation. Thick (greater than 20 feet) and laterally extensive (greater than 5 square miles) lignite beds are present in the Fort Union Formation throughout the Sentinel Butte and Tongue River Members. Lignite beds are also present in the Ludlow Member of the Fort Union Formation, although they are not as numerous or thick as they are in the overlying Sentinel Butte and Tongue River Members. As a result of lateral facies changes and migrating fluvial channel complexes in the Fort Union Formation, lignite beds of varying thickness occupy different stratigraphic horizons vertically throughout the Williston Basin.

The calculation of volumes for lignite and leonardite resources was not part of the scope of this study requested by the BLM, but a future study by the USGS may involve a comprehensive assessment of lignite resources and reserves in the Williston Basin. This future study could combine geologic data compiled in this study with geologic data from a previously unpublished 2019 assessment study by the USGS in the Williston Basin in eastern Montana. This future USGS study could also include the calculation of volumes for lignite resources and reserves, based on economic models derived using analogs from active mining operations in the Williston Basin and available spot market or contract coal prices.

Suggested Citation

Shaffer, B.N., 2021, An assessment of the economic potential of lignite and leonardite resources in the Williston Basin, North Dakota: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020–1135, 14 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20201135.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Previous Studies
  • Study Area
  • Generalized Geology
  • Data
  • Methodology
  • Areas of Potentially Economic Lignite
  • Areas of Potentially Economic Leonardite
  • Future Studies
  • Conclusions
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title An assessment of the economic potential of lignite and leonardite resources in the Williston Basin, North Dakota
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2020-1135
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201135
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Central Energy Resources Science Center
Description vi, 14 p.
Country United States
State North Dakota
Other Geospatial Williston Basin
Online Only (Y/N) Y
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