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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


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 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 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 an 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 the host well site, including pressure-volume-temperature data, core, and logs through the formations targeted by the project.
  • Completed construction of Southern PRB Horizontal Well Database
  • Collection of data needed for production decline curves — Monthly production data for wells in the PRB database are being compiled.
  • Initiation of Southern PRB Geologic Model using Petra™.
Current Status

The project continues with the collection and analysis of data needed to assist in the planning of field activities. The PRB well database continues to be populated with data from multiple sources and production data from active wells is being collected on an ongoing basis. Data will be used in the development of decline curves. These decline curves will be used to guide numerical simulations of historical and future production trends. The drilling of the project’s planned pilot coring well was delayed due to a stop in drilling activities by the projects field partner because of drops in oil prices and issues surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. This has led to additional delays in the initiation of planned lab activities (which require core access) and an extension of the project’s first budget period by a year. The project is pursuing potential opportunities to collect core from the project’s target formations at alternative locations in hopes of getting lab activities started and enabling critical planning for field lab production-related efforts under subsequent project phases.

Project Start
Project End
DOE Contribution


Performer Contribution


Contact Information

NETL – Richard C. Baker (

University of Wyoming – Steven Carpenter (

Additional Information