Geologic and Hydrologic Controls on Coalbed Methane: Sand Wash Basin, Colorado and Wyoming

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Geologic and hydrologic analysis of the Upper Cretaceous Mesaverde Group shows that the major controls on the production of coalbed methane are: structural configuration, coal occurrence, gas content, hydrodynamics, and water production. Steep structural dip (500 ft/mi) and coal occurrence limit economic exploration to the eastern and southeastern margins of the basin. Coal resources occur mainly in the lower Williams Fork Formation (upper Mesaverde) in the eastern part of the basin. Most coal beds are high-volatile C to B bituminous rank and have gas contents of less than 200 scf/ton. Moreover, Williams Fork coals do not extend westward to the area of highest thermal maturity. Thus, they could not serve as conduits for long-distance migration of gas. Regionally, groundwater flows westward from an eastern recharge area across an area of low thermal maturity up the coal-rank gradient. Consequently, only a relatively small volume of gas may be available to be swept basinward for conventional trapping. The most prospective areas lie basinward, northwest of Craig, Colorado, on the upflow, downward side of a major fault zone. Gas contents in some coal beds on the downthrown side of the fault exceed 400 scf/ton. The Mesaverde is a thick, regionally interconnected aquifer system of high transmissivity, yielding large volumes of water. Paradoxically, coalbed permeabilities of 10's to 1,000's of md may be too high for economic gas production. To date, high water production and low gas content at the basin margins have limited coalbed activity in the Sand Wash Basin. Major Tertiary coal resources occur in the lower part of the Paleocene Fort Union Formation.


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