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Pore systems and organic petrology of cretaceous Mowry and Niobrara source-rock reservoirs, Powder River Basin, Wyoming, USA

November 9, 2022

The Powder River Basin (PRB) is a world-class oil province, in large part thanks to contributions from premier source rocks, Cretaceous Mowry and Niobrara shales. Both formations are also unconventional reservoirs. A critical aspect of evaluating production potential and finding sweet spots is the nature of the pore systems in these fine-grained source-rock reservoirs. Variation by stratigraphic interval is important for selecting optimum target zones for horizontal wells. Understanding variation in pore type, size, and connectivity and relationships with mineralogy and fabric help in determining prospectivity in different parts of the basin. Deciphering controls on pore-system development helps predict intervals and locations of optimum reservoir quality.

Imaging of Niobrara and Mowry samples from a range of thermal maturities provided observations and data on pore systems, organic matter (OM) types and associations with mineralogy and fabric, wettability, and microporosity associated with both diagenetic and detrital clays. Imaging techniques included scanning electron microscopy, organic petrography and correlative scanning electron microscopy, and mapping of mineralogy through energy dispersive spectroscopy.

Mean solid bitumen (BRo) and vitrinite reflectance (VRo) values indicate all samples are in the oil window with values ranging from 0.52 to 1.15%. Organic fluorescence is prominent in amorphous OM, solid bitumen and some vitrinite in the early oil window. The fluorescence is extinguished at higher thermal maturity. Carbonate pellets (in Niobrara) mainly contain migrated solid bitumen and residual live oil and little or no terrigenous OM (vitrinite and inertinite). However, terrigenous OM is common in siliceous/argillaceous laminae in both formations, where it occurs with amorphous OM, some of which has converted in situ to a solid bitumen petroleum residue.

One key finding is the widespread presence of migrated OM at very early oil window maturity. Distribution of such OM and associated wettability alteration is fabric-controlled, at all levels of thermal maturity studied. Clay morphology and abundance and supporting rigid mineral grain framework strongly influence pore development, preservation, and connectivity in both formations. Carbonate content is a good proxy for reservoir quality in Niobrara intervals due to association of porous solid bitumen with calcareous fecal pellets. High recrystallized microquartz content is associated with the best reservoir intervals in the Mowry.

Publication Year 2022
Title Pore systems and organic petrology of cretaceous Mowry and Niobrara source-rock reservoirs, Powder River Basin, Wyoming, USA
DOI 10.1016/j.coal.2022.104134
Authors Terri Olson, Brad Michalchuk, Paul C. Hackley, Brett J. Valentine, Jason Parker, Ricardo San Martin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title International Journal of Coal Geology
Index ID 70245586
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Eastern Energy Resources Science Center; Geology, Energy & Minerals Science Center