Geology and Hydrogeology of the Palo Duro Basin, Texas Panhandle A Synthesis of Nuclear Waste Isolation Feasibility Studies, 1977-1987

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1988

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Detailed studies of the geology and hydrogeology of Permian salt beds and adjacent strata in the Palo Duro Basin, Texas Panhandle, began in 1977 when the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiated investigations to consider the salt beds as potential host rocks for a high-level radioactive waste repository. Studies continued until 1987 when the U.S. Congress directed that repository siting focus solely on Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Knowledge of the geology and hydrogeology of the large and complex Palo Duro Basin was minimal in 1977, in large part because of the previously limited success of hydrocarbon exploration in the basin. The ensuing decade of research produced significant new knowledge of stratigraphy, regional tectonics, geomorphology, hydrocarbon potential, geochemistry, hydrogeologic properties, and ground-water flow in the basin. This report synthesizes and examines the extensive results of these geologic and hydrogeologic studies of the Palo Duro Basin and identifies the perceived scientific issues that remain to be addressed and answered before high-level nuclear waste could be buried in the Texas Panhandle in any future program.

Some geologic and hydrogeologic aspects of the Palo Duro Basin still are not well defined where geologic and hydrogeologic data are sparse and where interpretations differ. Principal among these scientific issues are questions pertaining to the timing of tectonic and diagenetic events affecting Permian sediments and host-rock stability; thermal maturity of hydrocarbon source rocks and the potential for additional discoveries of oil and gas in the basin; recharge rates and the relative significance of different sources of recharge to the High Plains aquifer and to the aquifer in the Triassic Dockum Group; ground-water flow velocity through the evaporite section and deep-basin aquifers, influence of fractures on flow velocity, and whether to treat flow as a steady-state phenomenon; origin and age of brine in deeply buried formations beneath the salt section; origin, paleoenvironment, and rate of formation of playa-lake and other lacustrine basins during the Cenozoic Era; Quaternary and present rates of salt dissolution; and the varying local extent of salt dissolution beneath the Southern High Plains.

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