Back to Top
Skip to main content
Unlocking the Tight Oil Reservoirs of the Powder River Basin, Wyoming
Project Number
Last Reviewed Dated

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


Wold Energy Partners — Denver, CO 80202
Advanced Resources International — Arlington, VA 22203
Southern Illinois University — Carbondale, IL 62901
PIRI Technologies — Laramie, WY 82071
NSI Fracturing, LLC — Tulsa, OK 74136
Battelle Memorial Institute — Columbus, OH 43201
Goolsby, Finley & Associates, LLC — Casper, WY 82604
Len Paugh Consulting — McMurray, PA 15317

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 2018 forecasted production of 136,000 barrels/day. The PRB is unique in both the number of proven horizontal targets (at least 14), 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 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 Belle Fourche shows promise. However, the performance of previously drilled wells is highly variable and few core samples are available to explain the reasons for this variability. The Mowry, a world-class source rock, is a significant hydrocarbon source for the PRB and a potential productive shale. However, these areas have high bentonite clay content, creating geomechanical issues for completion and stimulation and 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 improved understanding of the geological and geomechanical systems within the basin and use this understanding to develop improved well completion and stimulation protocols, thereby increasing recovery factors from this unconventional play.


Optimized fracture designs, well completion technologies, and field development methodologies will be developed for the PRB. This will result in improved well completion and stimulation protocols, thereby increasing recovery factors from the unconventional plays targeted in the project. The results of this effort will ultimately aid in the development of enhanced well completion and stimulation programs that are fit-for-purpose within the PRB in order to accelerate development and improve tight oil recovery, thus contributing to U.S. oil production and energy security.

Accomplishments (most recent listed first)
  • Collected existing data from host well site including pressure-volume-temperature data, core, and logs through the formations targeted by the project.

Current Status

The project initiated on October 1, 2019. Preliminary activity has focused on the collection of existing data. Moving forward, activity will include detailed processing of the collected data and core and initiation of planning for the projects pilot core well, which is tentatively scheduled for late summer 2020. Following the collection of core, the project will initiate extensive laboratory studies and establish simulation models designed to assess potential well completion and operation options.

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution


Performer Contribution


Contact Information

NETL – Richard C. Baker (

University of Wyoming – Steven Carpenter (

Additional Information