The Bighorn Basin is one of many structural and sedimentary basins that formed in the Rocky Mountain foreland during the Laramide orogeny, a period of crustal instability and compressional tectonics that began in latest Cretaceous time and ended in the Eocene. The basin is nearly 180 mi long, 100 mi wide, and encompasses about 10,400 mi2 in north-central Wyoming and south-central Montana. The basin is bounded on the northeast by the Pryor Mountains, on the east by the Bighorn Mountains, and on the south by the Owl Creek Mountains). The north boundary includes a zone of faulting and folding referred to as the Nye-Bowler lineament. The northwest and west margins are formed by the Beartooth Mountains and Absaroka Range, respectively.
Important conventional oil and gas resources have been discovered and produced from reservoirs ranging in age from Cambrian through Tertiary. In addition, a potential unconventional basin-centered gas accumulation may be present in Cretaceous reservoirs in the deeper parts of the basin. It has been suggested by numerous authors that various Cretaceous marine shales are the principal source rock for these accumulations. Numerous studies of various Upper Cretaceous marine shales in the Rocky Mountain region have led to the general conclusion that these rocks have generated or are capable of generating oil and (or) gas.
In recent years, advances in horizontal drilling and multistage fracture stimulation have resulted in increased exploration and completion of wells in Cretaceous marine shales in other Rocky Mountain Laramide basins that were previously thought of only as hydrocarbon source rocks. Important parameters controlling hydrocarbon production from these shale reservoirs include: reservoir thickness, amount and type of organic matter, and thermal maturity. The purpose of this report is to present maps and a cross section showing levels of thermal maturity, based on vitrinite reflectance (Ro), for selected Upper Cretaceous marine shales in the Bighorn Basin.