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Intertonguing of the lower part of the Uinta Formation with the upper part of the Green River Formation in the Piceance Creek Basin during the late stages of Lake Uinta

February 13, 2009

During most of middle Eocene time, a 1,500-mi2 area between the Colorado and White Rivers in northwestern Colorado was occupied by the Piceance lobe of Lake Uinta. This initially freshwater lake became increasingly saline throughout its history. Sediments accumulating in the lake produced mostly clay shale, limestone, and dolomite containing varying concentrations of organic matter.

At the time of the maximum extent of the lake, the organic-rich Mahogany bed of the Green River Formation was deposited throughout the area. Shortly after its deposition, stream deposits began infilling the lake from the north through a series of contractions interspersed with minor expansions. This fluctuation of the shoreline resulted in the intertonguing of the stream sediments of the lower part of the overlying Uinta Formation with the lacustrine sediments of the upper part of the Green River over a distance of about 40 mi; construction of regional stratigraphic cross sections show the pattern of intertonguing in considerable detail.

The data utilized in this study, which covered parts of Rio Blanco, Garfield, and Mesa counties, was derived from (1) geologic mapping of thirty-four 7 ½-minute quadrangles and stratigraphic studies by geologists of the U.S. Geological Survey, and (2) shale-oil assay information from numerous cores. As a result of this previous work and the additional effort involved in the compilation here presented, more than a dozen Green River Formation tongues have been named, some formally, others informally.

Middle Eocene strata above the Mahogany bed in the northern part of the study area are dominantly coarse clastics of the Uinta Formation. The sedimentary sequence becomes more calcareous and organic-rich to the south where, in a 400-mi2 area, a 250 ft-thick sequence of oil shale above the Mahogany bed contains an average of 16 gallons of oil per ton of shale and is estimated to contain 73 billion barrels of oil.