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Geology of tight oil and potential tight oil reservoirs in the lower part of the Green River Formation, Uinta, Piceance, and Greater Green River Basins, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming

May 2, 2016

The recent successful development of a tight oil play in the Eocene-age informal Uteland Butte member of the lacustrine Green River Formation in the Uinta Basin, Utah, using modern horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques has spurred a renewed interest in the tight oil potential of lacustrine rocks. The Green River Formation was deposited by two large lakes, Lake Uinta in the Uinta and Piceance Basins and Lake Gosiute in the Greater Green River Basin. These three basins contain the world’s largest in-place oil shale resources with recent estimates of 1.53 trillion, 1.33 trillion, and 1.44 trillion barrels of oil in place in the Piceance, Uinta, and Greater Green River Basins, respectively. The Uteland Butte member was deposited during an early freshwater stage of the lake in the Uinta Basin prior to deposition of the assessed oil shale intervals. This report only presents information on the early freshwater interval and overlying brackish-water interval in all three basins because these intervals are most likely to have tight oil potential. Burial histories of the three basins were reconstructed to study (1) variations in subsidence and lake development, and (2) post deposition burial that led to the development of a petroleum system in only the Uinta Basin. The Uteland Butte member is a successful tight oil play because it is thermally mature for hydrocarbon generation and contains organic-rich shale, brittle carbonate, and porous dolomite. Abnormally high pressure in parts of the Uteland Butte is also important to production. Variations in organic richness of the Uteland Butte were studied using Fischer assay analysis from oil shale assessments, and pressures were studied using drill-stem tests. Freshwater lacustrine intervals in the Piceance and Greater Green River Basins are immature for hydrocarbon generation and contain much less carbonate than the Uteland Butte member. The brackish-water interval in the Uinta Basin is thermally mature for hydrocarbon generation but is clay-rich and contains little carbonate, and thus is a poor prospect for tight oil development.