Exploration and Production Technologies
Liquid-Rich Shale Potential of Utah’s Uinta and Paradox Basins: Reservoir Characterization and Development Optimization Last Reviewed 5/27/2014


The overall goal of the project is to provide reservoir-specific geological and engineering analyses of the emerging Green River Formation (GRF) tight oil plays in the Uinta Basin, and the established, yet understudied Cane Creek shale (and possibly other shale units) of the Paradox Formation in the Paradox Basin.

Utah Geological Survey, Salt Lake City, Utah
Energy and Geoscience Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
Eby Petrology and Consulting, Denver, Colorado

Uinta Basin Petroleum Companies: Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Berry Petroleum Co., Bill Barrett Corp., Newfield Exploration Co., QEP Resources, Inc.
Paradox Basin Petroleum Companies: Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Fidelity Exploration & Production, SM Energy Co., Southwestern Energy, Patara Oil & Gas LLC, Stone Energy Corp.

The high price of crude oil, coupled with lower natural gas prices, have generated renewed interest in exploration and development of liquid hydrocarbon reserves. Petroleum companies are following the success of the recent shale gas boom and employing many of the same well completion techniques to explore for liquid petroleum in shale formations. In fact, many shale formations targeted for natural gas include areas in which the shale is more prone to liquid production. In Utah, organic-rich shales in the Uinta and Paradox Basins have been a source of significant hydrocarbon generation, with companies traditionally targeting the interbedded sands or carbonates for their conventional resource recovery. Operators in these basins are exploiting advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques to explore the petroleum production potential of the shale units themselves.

The GRF in the Uinta Basin has been studied for over 50 years since hydrocarbons were first discovered. However, those studies focused on the many conventional sandstone reservoirs currently producing oil and gas. Very little information exists about the more unconventional crude oil production potential of thinner shale/carbonate units such as the Uteland Butte member, Black Shale facies, deep Mahogany zone, and other deep Parachute Creek Member high-organic units. Some operators have recently conducted geochemical and geomechanical characterization, natural fracture analysis, and thickness mapping in these prospective GRF units, but this work has been completed for only limited geographic areas, usually where the operators have leases, and the results are often confidential.

The specific objectives of the project’s research are to (1) characterize geologic, geochemical, and geomechanical rock properties of target zones in the two designated basins by compiling data and analyzing available cores, cuttings, and well logs; (2) describe outcrop reservoir analogs of GRF plays (Cane Creek shale is not exposed) and compare them to subsurface data; (3) map major regional trends for targeted intervals and identify “sweet spots” that have the greatest oil potential; (4) reduce exploration costs and drilling risks, especially in environmentally sensitive areas; (5) improve drilling and fracturing effectiveness by determining optimal well completion design; and (6) reduce field development costs, maximize oil recovery, and increase reserves. The project will therefore develop and make available geologic and engineering analyses, techniques, and methods for exploration and production from the GRF tight oil zones and the Paradox Formation shales where operations encounter technical, economic, and environmental challenges.

The detailed reservoir characterization and rock mechanics analyses will provide the basis for identification of “sweet spots” and improve well completion strategies for these undeveloped and under-developed reservoirs. The project will provide (1) improved and detailed reservoir characterization of the GRF tight oil plays in the Uinta Basin and the Paradox Formation shale oil plays (in particular the Cane Creek shale) in the Paradox Basin, targeting specific, brittle, high potential intervals, and (2) improved methods for identification of “sweet spots” using methods such as epifluorescence analysis of regional well core and cuttings. The reservoir characterization and analysis will be based on newly acquired and donated core, well logs, and well cuttings, which will be used to improve well placement and establish a relationship between natural fractures and productivity; thus reducing the number of wells and the environmental impact of drilling. Analysis of in situ stress, using geophysical and other geomechanical data, will be used to improve hydraulic fracture design for development of new fields or expanding established fields. The project will provide operators with the information they need to reduce exploration and development costs and drilling risks while maximizing oil recovery and increasing reserves.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)
One of the main goals of Budget Period 1 was to locate and describe all available cores from the two primary target intervals in the Uinta and Paradox Basins. Project team members located and described in detail ten lower GRF cores (mostly from the Uteland Butte Member) and collected all associated data. These data will help project members to develop a regional geologic picture of the Uteland Butte play and determine where data gaps exist. Project team members also described four cores from the Cane Creek shale in the Paradox Formation, collecting high-resolution XRF data and conducting RockEval analyses, XRD, and other core analyses.

Three new collaborations have been set up to help further explore both the Uteland Butte and the Cane Creek tight oil plays: (1) teamed with Dr. Hans Machel, geology professor at the University of Alberta and renowned dolomite expert, to explore the origin of the Uteland Butte’s productive dolomite intervals and subsequent diagenesis; (2) teamed with Dr. Joseph Moore, research professor at the Energy and Geoscience Institute, University of Utah, and renowned fluid inclusion expert, to study fluid inclusions in the Cane Creek shale to help determine timing of fractures and oil generation; and (3) teamed with research geologists from the U.S. Geological Survey to study the origins of Green River oils and thermal maturity of Green River shales.

A contract has been initiated with TerraTek, A Schlumberger company, to study the geomechanical properties of both the Uteland Butte and Cane Creek tight oil formations. The geomechanical portion of this project will be part of a University of Utah graduate student’s PhD dissertation.

Project team members presented at the AAPG Annual meeting in Houston, TX, detailing progress on the Cane Creek tight oil portion of the project.

Current Status (May 2014)
In order to accomplish the Task 6 goals, a geomechanical testing program was initiated with TerraTek to help determine reservoir mechanical properties and optimize well completion strategies in both the Uteland Butte and Cane Creek plays. Testing should commence in June 2014 with preliminary results by fall 2014.

Several new cores from the Cane Creek shale have been donated/borrowed from collaborators and will add greatly to our knowledge of the play. Epifluorecence and fluid inclusion analyses will begin in the next few months.

Team members will give an oral presentation on the Uteland Butte play and a core poster on the Cane Creek at the AAPG Rocky Mountain Section meeting in Denver, CO, in July 2014.

Project Start: October 1, 2012
Project End: September 30, 2015

DOE Contribution: $737,390
Performer Contribution, including subcontractor cost-share: $184,348

Contact Information:
NETL – Joseph Renk (Joseph.Renk@netl.doe.gov or 412-386-6406)
Utah Geological Survey - Michael Vanden Berg (michaelvandenberg@utah.gov or 801-538-5419)

Additional Information

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-1.59MB] January - March, 2014

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-1.68MB] October - December, 2013

Quarterly Research Progress Report [PDF-1.81MB] July - September, 2013

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