The Northeast Circle area is in central McCone and northern Dawson Counties, northeastern Montana. The area encompasses about 940 square miles and has a maximum relief of greater than 1,000 feet. The lowest point (altitude of less than 2,200 feet) is in the Redwater River Valley in the northern part of the area. The highest point (altitude of less than 3,200 feet) is on the Yellowstone-Missouri divide, located in parts of Tps. 18 and 19 N., Rso 49, 50, and 51E., and T. 20 N., Rs. 52 and 53 E.
Surface exposures in most of the area consist of yellowish or light-colored sandy shales of the Tongue River Member of the Paleocene Fort Union Formation. The coal beds in the Northeast Circle area occur in the lower 500 feet of this member and are persistent in the field. The predominant structural features of the area are the northeast end of the Weldon monocline-fault in Tps. 21 and 22 N., R. 47 E., and a small steep depression near Circle in sec. 10, T. 19 N., R. 48 E. Otherwise, the structure of the area is nearly flat.
Coal in the Northeast Circle area is composed of six main beds: the S, L1, R, Q, P, and Pust beds, in ascending stratigraphic order. Of these, the S, Pust, and P beds are the thickest.
The S bed is more than 20 feet thick in some places, but usually ranges in thickness from 6 to 10 feet. The Pust bed, which is about 430-490 feet above the S bed, is more than 18 feet thick in the upper bench and as much as 9 feet thick in the lower bench. Coal thickness in the P bed varies from 0 to 10.5 feet. The other coal seams in the area are generally less than 5 feet thick. All coals are lignite in rank.