The lower Upper Cretaceous strata in northeastern Wyoming, which have yielded major quantities of oil and gas, were sampled at boreholes in Converse, Johnson, and Weston Counties. Cores of noncalcareous shale of largely nearshore-marine origin were obtained from the Frontier Formation and the overlying Cody Shale at depths of 3,780.6 to 3,879.9 m in Converse County, near the axis of the Powder River basin, and at depths of less than 320 m in Johnson County, on the western flank of the basin. Cores of calcareous and noncalcareous shale representing offshore-marine and nearshore-marine environments were acquired from the Belle Fourche Shale, Greenhorn Formation, and Carlile Shale at depths of less than 270 m in Weston County, on the eastern flank of the Powder River basin.
Analyses of the shale for organic carbon content, total pyrolytic hydrocarbon yield, volatile hydrocarbon content, temperature of maximum pyrolytic yield, and vitrinite reflectance indicate that the amount and character of the organic matter in the sampled rocks is related to the content of calcium carbonate, the depositional environment, and the burial depth of the strata. On the east flank of the Powder River basin, calcareous shale of offshore-marine origin contains abundant hydrogen-rich organic matter derived mainly from aquatic plants. Noncalcareous shale of largely nearshore-marine origin, on the west flank of the basin, locally contains significant hydrogen-poor organic matter derived mostly from land plants. The noncalcareous, nearshore-marine shale in the middle of the basin probably contained similar amounts of hydrogendeficient organic matter prior to deep burial and thermal alteration.
The calcareous shale in Weston County is a potentially rich source of oil and gas, but it is thermally immature and is in a very early stage of the hydrocarbon-generation process. The noncalcareous shale in Johnson County is a potential source rock for gas, but also is in an early stage of thermal alteration. In Converse County, the sampled beds are thermally mature and have generated hydrocarbons. The extent of this contribution of hydrocarbons to the commercial petroleum occurrences of the area can be inferred from the composition of the original organic matter in the beds. Furthermore, the degree of thermal alteration of the organic matter at these localities indicates that the depth of the sampled strata was never as great on the flanks of the Powder River basin as in the basin center.