Major resources of natural gas are entrapped in low-permeability, low-pressure reservoirs at depths less than 4,000 ft (1,200 m) in the northern Great Plains. This shallow gas is the product of the immature stage of hydrocarbon generation and is referred to as biogenic gas. Prospective low-permeability, gas-bearing reservoirs range in age from late Early to Late Cretaceous and include most of the section from the base of the Mowry Shale to the top of the Judith River Formation. For detailed examination, the potential reservoir section was divided into five intervals represented by one or more formations and their correlatives. The intervals selected correspond to (1) Mowry Shale, (2) Belle Fourche Shale and Greenhorn Formation, (3) Cartile Shale, (4) Niobrara and Telegraph Creek Formations and Eagle Sandstone, and (5) Claggett Shale and Judith River Formation and their equivalents.

Within each interval, several different facies are developed. The following facies were identified and mapped for each interval: nonmarine rocks, coastal sandstones, shelf sandstones, siltstones, shales, and chalks. Two types of shelf sandstone were differentiated but generally not mapped separately because of lack of well log control. The “sand ridge” type has reservoir properties comparable to coastal sandstones and occurs as isolated tongues as much as 75 ft (23 m) thick. The second type of shelf sandstone is in beds commonly less than 1 in. (3 cm) thick which are interbedded with shale and contain a high content of allogenic silt- and clay-size material. It is impossible to differentiate these individual beds on conventional well logs. The siltstone and shale facies are grouped together tiecause conventional logs cannot distinguish between these two rock types, particularly when they are intertiedded. For future evaluation of natural gas resources from tow-permeability reservoirs, it will be necessary to differentiate between the siltstone and shale facies and to identify individual beds, particularly very thin ones, within the shelf sandstone facies.

Each facies contains distinct reservoir types, some of which are low in permeability. The most promising low-permeability reservoirs are developed in the shelf sandstone, siltstone, and chalk facies. Reservoirs within these facies are particularly attractive because they are enveloped by thick sequences of shale which serve as both a source and a seal for the gas. When naturally fractured, these shales also may be low-productivity gas reservoirs similar to the Devonian shales of the Appalachian basin. In addition, facies with low-permeability reservoirs are present over most of the study area when maps for all of the intervals are combined.

Natural gas is produced from low-permeability reservoirs in the northern Great Plains in the southern part of western Canada. Established production covers an area of approximately 8,000 sq mi (20,700 sq km) where reported recoverable reserves average as much as 2 Bcf sq mi. Using these reserve data as an analog, the United States portion may contain resources of natural gas in excess of 100 Tcf. The volume of recoverable gas in the United States will depend on the development of improved recovery technology and higher gas prices relative to costs.

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