A zone of lignite beds of Paleocene age in the Denver Formation (Upper Cretaceous and Paleocene) lies about 800-1,500 feet above the well-known and extensively mined coal beds of the Laramie Formation (Upper Cretaceous). The zone is a few hundred to as much as 500 feet thick. Where lignite beds lie within 1,000 feet of the surface, this zone underlies an area about 30 miles wide by about 75 miles long, stretching from just northeast of Denver to several miles south of Calhan. Fifteen mines were operated at various periods between 1874 and 1940 and probably produced a total of less than 100,000 tons of lignite, mostly for local use.
From 1874 to 1974, several geologists have reported on this lignite zone or the enclosing beds, but no detailed reports have been written except for one by this writer. Drill holes are the main source of geologic data, owing to poor exposure.
There are generally about 3 to 6 lignite beds, and they are mostly about 15 or 20 to a few tens of feet apart. Most or all beds typically contain numerous non-coal partings from a fraction of an inch to several inches thick, so that thickness of lignite beds should be stated as gross thickness and as net lignite thickness; net lignite thickness is generally from 70 to 90 percent of gross thickness. Many partings are composed of kaolin, but others are composed of other clay minerals, siltstone, and sandstone. The lignite beds range generally from 1 or 2 to several feet thick, and some are as much as 10-25 feet thick; the thickest known bed has a maximum thickness of 54.5 feet, with a net lignite thickness of 40 feet. Most lignite beds seem to have fair lateral continuity, and at least some beds are several miles in extent. The thickest known lignite bed was traced for at least 18 miles, from northwest to southeast of Watkins.
The lignite is brownish-black to black, weathers, checks, and disintegrates rapidly, and even in drill cores from a few hundred feet in depth the lignite is easily broken by hand pressure. Quality of the lignite is lowered by the non-coal partings and, locally at least, by some small blebs and balls of clay in the lignite itself, especially at the base. Available analyses indicate that the following general figures, on an as-received basis, may be applied to relatively clean lignite from this zone: 6,000-7,000 Btu, 20-35 percent moisture, 8-18 percent ash, and 0.3-0.5 percent sulfur. Rank of the lignite is lignite A as calculated by the formulas of the American Society for Testing and . Materials (ASTM), although some parts, especially of deeper beds, may be as high as subbituminous C coal in rank.
Best utilization of the lignite probably would be by gasification, liquefaction, or similar methods, because of the numerous non-coal partings and low quality.
The thickest known lignite bed is estimated to contain at least 1.25 billion short tons of lignite. Two methods of roughly estimating the order of magnitude of lignite resources, in beds at least 4 feet thick and within 1,000 feet of the surface in this zone, indicate resources are on the order of 20 billion tons.