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Current Projects

Hydraulic fracking wellIndustrial Sands Investigation

The WSGS has initiated a statewide project to investigate the locations, availability, and quality of sands that can be used for the Wyoming oil and gas industry as well as other potential markets.

Industrial sands are commonly used for hydraulic fracturing and in the manufacture of glass. This research will involve identifying economically viable sand deposits in the state as well as whether the sands from those deposits meet industry quality standards.

For this study, to be published in 2017, geologist Andrea Loveland will gather samples of sands at various sites throughout the state. Samples will then be analyzed with respect to industry specifications. A final published report will include a summary of the locations sampled, methodology, and analytical results.

Powder River Basin Groundwater Salinity

Groundwater quality, and subsequently the use(s) for which it is suited, varies widely throughout Wyoming. This is most evident in the large sedimentary structural basins, where the majority of the state’s population resides and the greater part of economic activity occurs. An aquifer may produce high quality groundwater suited for human consumption at a basin’s margin while water pumped from the same aquifer a few miles basinward may be unfit for livestock usage. One measure of water quality is its “salinity.” Salinity is the amount of dissolved material that remains as residue after the liquid portion of a water sample evaporates.

WSGS hydrogeologist Karl Taboga is evaluating groundwater salinities occurring at depths of 5,000 ft or less “below ground surface” (bgs) in the southern Powder River structural basin (SPRB) of northeastern Wyoming. Special emphasis is placed on saline groundwaters (TDS ≥ 5,000 mg/L) that may be suited to industrial uses thereby conserving higher quality waters for domestic, agricultural, and livestock uses. Saline groundwaters are encountered most frequently during oil and gas exploration and production operations in deep basin aquifers located more than 1,000 ft bgs.

As with its earlier study of salinity in Denver-Julesburg Basin groundwater (Taboga and others, 2015), two methods are utilized to determine groundwater salinity. First, WSGS will obtain existing water quality data from the USGS Produced Water Database and the WOGCC Water Analysis Database. Second, using the Static Spontaneous Potential Method, WSGS will estimate TDS levels from spontaneous potential data obtained from WOGCC oil and gas well logs. The project report will be released in 2017.

Unconventional Oil and Gas Resources

WSGS oil and gas geologist Rachel Toner is undertaking a series of unconventional reservoir investigations examining oil production trends with relation to how geology, completion practices, and/or both impact operators’ production. The investigations focus on the Powder River and Denver basins, which are the only two Wyoming basins under extensive development for unconventional oil and gas resources. The tight Cretaceous sands and shales in these basins have been developed using horizontal well drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques. Some of the most prolific unconventional oil and gas-producing formations include:

  • Mesaverde (Teapot/Parkman sands)
  • Cody/Pierre (Shannon/Sussex sands)
  • Niobrara Formation
  • Turner Sandstone
  • Frontier Formation
  • Codell Sandstone

Toner's current study focuses on the Turner Sandstone Member of the Carlile Shale in the Wyoming portion of the Powder River Basin and is slated for completion in 2018. Like Toner's May publication on Codell Sandstone oil production in the northern portion of the Denver Basin in Laramie County, Wyoming, the Turner study will examine production trends and completion practices. However, it will also include additional Turner data collected by the WSGS for its National Coal Resource Data System (NCRDS) project. The NCRDS data will be used to create isopach and structure contour maps, and will help further analyze how the geology of the Turner Sandstone influences hydrocarbon production.

Cross-bedded sandstone in Chugwater quadrangle Mapping Chugwater Quadrangle

A bedrock geology map now underway of the Chugwater 1:100,000 quadrangle in southeast Wyoming will complete bedrock mapping for the eastern edge of Wyoming and complete bedrock mapping of the Denver Basin and High Plains Aquifer areas.

A bedrock compilation effort for the quadrangle began nearly a decade ago by the WSGS, portions have been mapped by the U.S. Geological Survey for Water Supply Papers, and two 1:24,000-scale maps have been published. WSGS geoscientists Andrea Loveland and Jim Stafford will use these resources to construct a digital bedrock geologic map in an ArcGIS geodatabase. Stafford previously interpreted air photos to refine contact placement, edge-matched with adjacent 1:100,000-scale quadrangles. Loveland will field check the map area to ground-truth formations and unit contact placement.

The map is slated for publication in 2018.

Uranium Resource Study of the Gas Hills Area

This uranium investigation will be a detailed study of the sedimentary petrology, related stratigraphy, structural history, and hydrologic flow history of the Gas Hills mining district in Fremont and Natrona counties. Geologist Robert Gregory is leading the investigation, which will involve examining regional geology and stratigraphy as well as the processes responsible for the development and mineralization of the uranium deposits. Expected completion date is June 2018.

Mines and Minerals Map

The WSGS is creating an online, interactive mines and mineral map of Wyoming that will display locations of abandoned and active mines, sample locations for mineral resources, and sample analyses, where available. The GIS-based map, slated for completion in 2018, will be constructed to allow ongoing updates, similar to the interactive Oil and Gas Map of Wyoming that launched in 2016. Geologists Wayne Sutherland, Chris Carroll, and Robert Gregory are leading the project.

Northeast River Basins Groundwater Technical Memorandum

The river basins of northeastern Wyoming are among the most important drainages in the state; they collectively contain one quarter of Wyoming’s surface area and much of its energy resources. The northeast river basins include the drainages of the Little Bighorn, Tongue, Powder, Little Powder, Belle Fourche, Little Missouri, Cheyenne, and Upper Niobrara rivers. Under contract to the Wyoming Water Development Office (WWDO), the WSGS is developing a groundwater technical memo that defines the geographic extents of the area’s important aquifers and describes their hydraulic and chemical properties, recharge areas, and estimated recharge rates. The project also identifies existing groundwater studies and future groundwater development opportunities to satisfy projected future agricultural, municipal, and industrial demands.

The technical memo represents an intensive collaborative effort among water resource professionals from the WSGS, the WWDO, and the USGS. Additional contributors include the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, the Water Resources Data System at the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Like previous river basin studies by the WSGS, this technical memo will provide the people of Wyoming with the most current and complete compilation of groundwater information available in a format that is understandable to water professionals and lay persons alike.

This report, led by WSGS hydrogeologist, Karl Taboga, will be published in 2018 and will be available on the Wyoming Water Development Office website and through the Wyoming River Basin Plan portal on the WSGS website.

Jade Investigation

Gems and minerals geologist Wayne Sutherland is researching occurrences of jade, which is the most famous gemstone in Wyoming. Nephrite jade, also known as Wyoming Jade, is Wyoming’s state gemstone and first received wide attention in the Granite Mountains area of central Wyoming in the 1930s. Wyoming Jade is considered to be some of the finest nephrite in the world, and varies from translucent to opaque and ranges in color from off-white (rare) to apple green, emerald green, leaf green, olive greent, and black. This investigation will discuss the geology, mineralogy, and history of jade in Wyoming, along with its significance as a gemstone.

StateMap workStateMap Program

The 2017 StateMap award year consists of the following WSGS mapping projects:

  1. Preliminary bedrock geologic map of the Gas Hills 7.5' quadrangle, Fremont and Natrona counties, Wyoming
  2. Preliminary bedrock geologic map of the Albany 7.5' quadrangle, Albany County, Wyoming
  3. Preliminary bedrock geologic map of the Foxpark 7.5' quadrangle, Albany County, Wyoming
  4. Preliminary bedrock geologic map of the Woods Landing 7.5' quadrangle, Albany County, Wyoming

All of the maps are at 1:24,000 scale and will be published in April 2018. Read more about the StateMap program on the WSGS geologic mapping page.

Energy Assessments

WSGS geologists are conducting research on the Fort Union Formation in the Wyoming part of the Greater Green River Basin. This basin holds potential coal and oil and gas reserves. Coal companies actively mine the Fort Union coals near Point of Rocks, coalbed methane operators have explored the area, and U.S. Department of Energy coal gasification pilot studies have been conducted in this area. In addition, there are thousands of existing gas wells within the basin. More than 16,000 wells are proposed for drilling over the next few years, some of which are targeting the Fort Union Formation.

Geologists gathered data and created a stratigraphic model of the Fort Union Formation in the Great Divide and Washakie basins to gain a better understanding of the coal, sandstone, and shale clastic setting. This study considers existing oil and gas exploration targets within the Paleocene-age strata and suggest new ideas for future exploration. This project is intended as original research to gain knowledge of the stratigraphic architecture for the potential for future coal, and oil, and gas resource development.

The first of two reports on the Fort Union Formation is completed and can be found at: Stratigraphy and Hydrocarbon Potential of the Fort Union and Lance Formations in the Great Divide and Washakie Basins, South-Central Wyoming.

Stratigraphic data from both projects will be compiled into the USGS real-time National Coal Resource Data System (NCRDS). The WSGS maintains the Wyoming part of the national database. More than 6,000 data points were added to the NCRDS for formation tops and coal bed thicknesses from this study. Future studies will concentrate on the western side of the Greater Green River Basin west of the Rock Springs Uplift.