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Unlocking the Tight Oil Reservoirs of the Powder River Basin, Wyoming
Project Number
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The goal of this field-based research project is to establish a tight oil field laboratory in the Powder River Basin (PRB). The field laboratory will be used to characterize and overcome the technical challenges of developing two large, emerging unconventional/shale oil formations — the Mowry Shale and the Belle Fourche Shale — with the challenging tight sand Frontier Formation serving as an additional objective.


University of Wyoming — Laramie, WY 82071


Oxy USA, Inc — Houston, TX 
Advanced Resources International — Arlington, VA
Southern Illinois University — Carbondale, IL
NSI Fracturing, LLC — Tulsa, OK
Battelle Memorial Institute — Columbus, OH
Goolsby, Finley & Associates, LLC — Casper, WY
Len Paugh Consulting — McMurray, PA

Rig and Windmill, North Douglas Wyoming

The PRB is an oil-rich basin in northeast Wyoming. While still in the delineation to early stages of development, the PRB is experiencing double-digit production growth with a forecasted production of 136,000 barrels/day. The PRB is unique in both the number of proven horizontal targets (at least 14), the thickness of the pay column (5,000 ft), and the variety of overlapping producing reservoirs. Reservoir types vary from heterogeneous sandstones with near-conventional trapping and reservoir properties to true unconventional resource plays including source rocks/targets. The PRB is emerging as a new, active industry target for tight oil development. The bulk of the recent oil wells have been drilled into the tight and non-tight sandstone formations, such as the Parkman and Turner. However, attention is also being paid to the two deeper shale oil reservoirs, the Mowry Shale and the overlying Belle Fourche Shale/Third Frontier Formation, and the extensive Frontier tight sand. The Mowry and Belle Fourche formations are estimated to hold the majority of the unconventional oil resource in the Basin and serve as the source rocks for the overlying tight oil sandstone reservoirs in the PRB.

The wells testing production from the Belle Fourche are highly variable, and there are few core samples available to explain the reasons for this variability. The Mowry and the Belle Fourche have high bentonite clay content, creating geomechanical issues for completion and stimulation as well as variable oil and water saturations. The porosity and permeability distribution for the tight sandstone of the Frontier formation appears to be strongly controlled by an environment of deposition and diagenetic effects, resulting in the need for improved completion and stimulation practices that can mitigate the impact of permeability and porosity degradation.

The goal of this project is to improve oil and gas recovery from Powder River horizontal wells through an improved understanding of the geological and geomechanical systems within the basin and use this understanding to engineer improved well completion and stimulation protocols to increase hydrocarbon recovery from unconventional plays. 


Optimized fracture designs, implementation of new well completion technologies, and improved field development methodologies will be developed for the PRB that will ultimately result in fit-for-purpose well completion and stimulation programs within the PRB. This will accelerate development and improve tight oil recovery, thus contributing to U.S. oil production and energy security.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)
  • Accomplishments (most recent listed first)Oxy USA joined the project team in October 2021 to replace World Energy Partners.
  • Published G. Finley (2021) “Report on Mowry Shale Thermal Maturity Mapping in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming,” EORI Bulletin # 2102/2021.
  • Published B. Murray, R. Ness, G. Koperna, and S. Carpenter (2021) “Evaluation of Tight Oil Well Performance and Completion Practices in the Powder River Basin – Time Slice Analysis,” paper URTeC 5394, proc. 9th Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (26-28 July 2021). DOI: 10.15530/urtec-2021-5394.
  • Published G. Koperna, B. Murray, D. Riestenberg, and S. Carpenter (2021) “Paying it forward: How an emerging unconventional play can hit the ground running,” paper SPE-201808-MS, presented at the 2020 SPE Eastern Regional Meeting (2-3 November 2021). DOI: 10.2118/201808-MS.
  • The PRB database has been completed and contains production data from roughly 800 horizontal wells producing from the Mowry and Turner/Frontier formations.
Current Status

With the addition of Oxy USA to the team, the project is now actively working towards the drilling of the pilot hole, which has a planned spud date of mid-December 2021. Core will be collected from this vertical well from the Mowry formation. The completed PRB database will be used to conduct multivariate analysis and machine learning to determine which well parameters are critical to well productivity and can be optimized to improve a well. Research laboratories will study the retrieved Mowry core as well as core previously taken from the Belle Fourche shale and Turner tight sand. 

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution


Performer Contribution


Contact Information

NETL – Richard C. Baker (

University of Wyoming – Steven Carpenter (

Additional Information