The U.S. Geological Survey is studying regional-scale assessments of resources and reserves of primary coal beds in the major coal bed basins in the United States to help formulate policy for Federal, State, and local energy and land use. This report summarizes the geology and coal resources and reserves in the Little Snake River coal field and Red Desert assessment area in the Greater Green River Basin, southwestern Wyoming. These areas are contiguous and referred to as the “assessment area” in this report. The assessment area covers about 2,300 square miles of the eastern section of the 15,400-square-mile Greater Green River Basin. This area was prioritized for assessment because no comprehensive resource assessment had previously been completed in the area; abundant, previously unavailable drill hole data from cooperators and stakeholders became available; and there are active coal mines in the Greater Green River Basin area producing from some of the same formations as those found in the assessment area.
Coal-bearing Eocene, Paleocene, and Upper Cretaceous formations have a composite thickness of more than 11,000 feet in the assessment area. Stratigraphic sequences that contain multiple coal beds within a formation or member are referred to as coal zones in this report. Paleogene coal beds are found within coal zones in the Eocene Wasatch Formation and the Paleocene Fort Union Formation. Cretaceous coal beds are within coal zones in the Lance, Almond, and Allen Ridge Formations.
A total of 4,214 drill holes and measured sections were used to construct a geologic database for this assessment. From these data, 7 coal zones containing 55 individual coal beds were identified. Not all 55 coal beds were assessed; only those beds that were at least 3 feet thick and had at least a 2-square-mile areal extent were considered. Using a geology-based assessment methodology, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated original, available, and recoverable coal resources for 33 coal beds that met those criteria.
An original resource of 73.2 billion short tons of coal was calculated for the 33 coal beds that met the criteria in the assessment area. To be considered extractable by surface mining methods, coal beds had to be equal to or greater than 3 feet thick and less than 300 feet deep. Of the 73.2 billion short tons (BST), 19.3 BST were determined to be recoverable resources, of which approximately 2.1 BST were considered as recoverable resources by surface mining methods at a stripping ratio of 10:1 or less. (defined as recoverable resources for this assessment, based on economic modeling and regional mining analogs). Recoverable resources for underground mining methods (coal 8 to 15 feet thick and between 300 and 3,000 feet deep) totaled 17.2 BST. Out of the 19.3 BST assessed as recoverable coal resources, approximately 167 million short tons (MST) were considered to be reserves.
Within the 7 coal zones, the Wasatch coal zone contains an original resource of about 6.8 BST billion short tons of coal, of which 2.6 BST are considered a recoverable resource and approximately 26.7 MST are considered reserves. The Overland coal zone, in the Fort Union Formation, contains an original resource of approximately 23 BST of coal, of which 8.4 BST are considered a recoverable resource and approximately 74 MST are considered reserves. The China Butte coal zone, in the Fort Union Formation, contains an original resource of 36.2 BST of coal, of which 6.3 BST are considered a recoverable resource and approximately 5.5 MST are considered reserves. The Almond coal zone, in the Almond Formation, contains an original resource of 7.0 BST, of which approximately 2.0 BST are considered a recoverable resource and 61 MST are considered reserves. Resources were not calculated for the coal zones within the Niland Tongue of the Wasatch Formation or the Cretaceous Lance and Allen Ridge Formations because the coal beds in those zones are relatively thin, discontinuous, and have a limited areal extent.