Assessing Energy Resources in the WLCI Region
Photo of a gas well drilling rig with additional well pads in the background in the Pinedale Gas Field, Wyoming.

Southwest Wyoming has abundant energy resources in the form of oil and gas, coal, coalbed methane, and wind. 

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Why Is It Important to Assess Energy Resources in the WLCI Region?

Southwest Wyoming has abundant energy resources in the form of oil and gas, coal, coalbed methane, and wind. However, energy resource development is accompanied by substantial disturbance, both through the extraction process itself and the supporting infrastructure (roads, storage tanks, pipes). This disturbance can impact wildlife species in many ways, including habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, impeding or disrupting seasonal migration patterns, and reduced water quality and quantity to name a few. Future effects of energy development in southwest Wyoming will depend on the energy resources developed and their locations. For this reason, it is critically important to identify areas in the WLCI region where energy resource development is active as well as those areas most likely to be developed in the future. Geologists from the USGS Energy Resources Program assessed energy resources within the WLCI region.  To identify the regions where energy resources are most likely to be developed, we applied a geologic understanding to emerging patterns of extraction for each energy commodity and assessed the potential for undiscovered resources.

 

Key Findings
  • Maintenance of a compilation of public and proprietary information on subsurface petroleum (wells installed) for the Greater Green River Basin
  • Development of new geographic information system products that portray geologic studies of energy resources
  • Development a web-based energy-resource database comprising foundational, up-to-date references for relevant literature and links to on-line resources and research efforts
  • Automation of updates of the database on oil and gas development in the WLCI area
  • Study of future coal availability in the Washakie Basin (Atlantic Rim)

Study Objectives

  • Document progression of energy resource production within the WLCI region, including oil and gas resources; coal and coalbed methane; and wind energy.
  • Enhance understanding of the subsurface geology of the WLCI region in order to predict potential impact of future energy development on critical ecosystems.
  • Evaluate existing models and forecasts of future energy production in Southwest Wyoming, and work to enhance these if possible.
  • Provide baseline energy resource data for modeling vulnerability of wildlife to energy development and for predicting species’ responses to scenarios of future development.
Wind turbines in Southwest Wyoming.

Wind farms are among the many types of energy developments in southwest Wyoming that have been assessed by the USGS Energy Resources Program.

Southwest Wyoming has abundant energy resources in the form of oil and gas, coal, coalbed methane, and wind. The region has 15 of the Nation’s 100 largest oil and gas fields, including the Pinedale (third) and Jonah (seventh) natural gas fields. The most recent USGS assessments of the potential for undiscovered oil and gas estimate combined resources of a mean of 85.8 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas, a mean of 264 million barrels of undiscovered oil, and a mean of 2.7 billion barrels of undiscovered natural gas liquids, most of which are in Southwestern Wyoming. Within the WLCI, there are several active surface coalmines and one active underground coalmine. The USGS estimated a mean of 1.89 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered coalbed gas in Southwestern Wyo­ming, much of it within the WLCI. Renewable energy, including wind generation, is expected to provide a larger component of the U.S. energy supply to maintain adequate electrical power into the future. One of the most favorable locations for wind power development in the Nation is located in southern Wyoming, where a gap in the Rocky Mountains channels strong winds generated from across the plains, making this area ideally suited for wind power development. Seven wind farms are currently operating in southwestern Wyoming and five additional wind energy projects are proposed, in progress, or under construction.Wyoming is a transportation crossroads for Canadian crude oil imports and local Rocky Mountain production flowing to Midwest and Mountain markets in the United States. A major pipeline corridor that extends across the WLCI area and is roughly parallel to U.S. Interstate 80 transports the majority of Wyoming's gas supply from large fields to the north and the south, to in-state and out-of-state markets.

Map of average wind speeds throughout Wyoming.

USGS geologists mapped locations of active oil and gas fields, solar developments, and uranium mines, as well as determining potential for future development of these resources in Southwest Wyoming. Click to enlarge map.

USGS geologists mapped locations of active of coal mining, coalbed methane extraction, and wind turbines, as well as determining potential for future development of these resources in Southwest Wyoming. Click to enlarge map.

The wind-resource map shows the predicted mean annual wind speeds at an 80-meter height (typical for wind turbines). Areas with annual average wind speeds of at least 6.5 m/second at this height are generally considered suitable for wind development.