SPE 168892 / URTeC 1618691

Reservoir Geometries and Facies Associations of Fluvial Tight-Gas
Sands, Williams Fork Formation, Rifle Gap, Colorado
Bryan McDowell*, Colorado School of Mines; Piret Plink-Bjӧrklund, Colorado School of
Copyright 2013, Unconventional Resources Technology Conference (URTeC)

This paper was prepared for presentation at the Unconventional Resources Technology Conference held in Denver, Colorado, USA, 12-14 August 2013.

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Fluvial deposits of the Upper Williams Fork Formation contain a variety of geometries and facies that change both
spatially and stratigraphically throughout the Piceance Basin. This study identifies that the geometrical variability of
these fluvial sandstones is greater than the lithofacies variability within the sandbodies. The latter, and the lack of
lateral continuity of the fluvial sandbodies, makes it difficult to identify sandbody types in subsurface. For this
study, individual sandbodies were measured for thickness and apparent lateral extent in Rifle Gap, Colorado using a
combination of GPS measurements, satellite photography, and stratigraphic sections. This dataset will later be
integrated with a regional sequence stratigraphic framework and fracture characterization to better understand the
controls on reservoir occurrence and quality in the eastern Piceance Basin. Outcrops in the eastern part of the
Piceance basin are only miles away from producing wells, and thus highly interesting study location.

Four sandbody types have been recognized: (I) single-story, isolated channels; (II) laterally-amalgamated channels;
(III) multi-story channels; and (IV) crevasse channels and splays. Types I through III represent potential
hydrocarbon reservoirs; whereas Type IV appears insignificant for economic production. Lithofacies are dependent
on sandbody type, but of relatively low variability, except for sandbody type IV. Type I sandbodies form ca. 57% of
sandbodies present and contain little-to-no muds. Type II (5%) occurs when single-story channels amalgamate at the
tips, forming a single, laterally-continuous and vertically-isolated sandbody with a thin highly-rippled
sandstone/mudstone separating individual channels. Type III deposits (25%) are composed of laterally- and
vertically-stacked channels, and form the majority of potential reservoir volume. These multi-story channels contain
a significant mudstone component between individual channels which may act as baffle to fluid/gas flow and
communication between sandstone compartments. Type I sandbodies are typically 6.3 m thick and 158 m wide;
Type II = 10.8 m thick, 496 m wide; Type III = 21.3 m thick, 463 m wide; and Type IV = 1.9 m thick, 38 m wide.

The established relationships aid future exploration in the Piceance Basin by providing: (1) geometric relationships
between thickness and sandbody type, (2) lithofacies percentages present within sandbodies, and (3) interpreted flow
baffles found within potential reservoirs.


The Williams Fork Formation in the Piceance Basin of Colorado is a tight-gas reservoir producing from fluvial
deposits consisting of discontinuous sandstones, siltstones, shales, and coals (Pranter et al., 2008). This Late-
Cretaceous unit is found within the greater Mesaverde Group between the Iles and Ohio Creek formations, and
estimated to contain as much as 423 TCF of natural gas (Law, 2002; Hettinger and Kirschbaum, 2003). In recent
years, operators have decreased well spacing from 20 to 10 acres in hopes of intersecting previously isolated
reservoir compartments (Pranter et al., 2009). Previously-published data on sandbody geometries along the Grand
Hogback (Lorenz, 1982; Lorenz et al., 1985) did not take channel architecture into account. This study aims to
define sandbody geometry based on interpreted channel architecture and document lithofacies changes associated
with the style of deposition.

Stratigraphic column modified from Cole and Cumella (2003). Map modified from Hoak and Klawitter (1995). and red denotes major gas fields within the basin. NORTH 375 m Figure 2: Sandbody outcrops measured in Rifle Gap and used for this study (Image modified from Google Earth) . and Hoak and Klawitter (1997). Map of Piceance Basin and stratigraphic column of the eastern margin.URTeC 16186691 2 Figure 1. Green marks outcrop of Mesaverde Group. Dashed lines in the stratigraphic column represent unconformities.

based on lithology. reported numbers must be treated as a minimum value. erosion from Rifle Creek has destroyed any outcrop near the bottom of the gap. and (IV) crevasse channels & splays. Table 1. this especially true for apparent length. grain size. In addition. Permeability would be expected to be similar vertically and horizontally due to the small scale of the channel and overall absence of mudstones within the channel architecture. Sandbody thicknesses were measured laterally. and E are the most common within sandbodies I through III in decreasing occurrence. sorting. LITHOFACIES LITHOFACIES TYPE GRAIN SIZE SORTING ROUNDNESS A Planar-Laminated Sandstone Upper-Fine to Lower-Medium Sand Moderate to Well Sub-Angular to Sub-Rounded B Trough Cross-Stratified Sandstone Upper-Fine to Lower-Medium Sand Moderate to Well Sub-Angular to Sub-Rounded C Planar Cross-Stratified Sandstone Upper-Fine to Lower-Medium Sand Moderate to Well Sub-Angular to Sub-Rounded D Structureless Sandstone Upper-Fine to Lower-Medium Sand Moderate to Well Sub-Angular to Sub-Rounded E Ripple-Laminated Sandstone Silt to Lower-Fine Sand Well Rounded (?) F Channel-Fill Mudstone Clay to Silt . sandbodies were followed from their first to last appearance in outcrop. True width was not attempted due to lack of high-resolution paleoflow data from the highly-weathered outcrop. At first glance. sedimentary structure. (III) multi-story channels. and roundness. and width was calculated using the square root of the differences in northing/easting coordinates. Lithofacies definitions can be found in Table 1. color. as well as in stratigraphic sections. and less so for sandbody thickness. - G Floodplain Mudstone Clay to Silt . Abundances within individual sandbodies are reported in Figure 3. Type II sandbodies (laterally-amalgamating channels) are the least common in Rifle Gap. isolated channels. Defined lithofacies based on channel fill and sedimentary structures. This lateral continuity is formed by two single-story. - H Thinly-Laminated Sandstone Silt to Lower-Fine Sand Well Rounded (?) Sandbody Types Field work in Rifle Gap has revealed four sandbody types based on their geometry and reservoir potential in the subsurface: (I) single-story. These multi-story channels are thus reported as individual sandbodies due to the uncertainty of their correlation. these sandbodies appear no different than single-story channels. but pose interesting implications for understanding reservoir flow. (II) laterally-amalgamated channels. thus. Types I sandbodies (single-story. however. isolated channels) comprise the majority of studied outcrops in Rifle Gap. The ends of sandbodies are typically covered by eroded sandstones/mudstone. GPS points were recorded at these locations (UTM format). C. Google Earth imagery was used to approximate sandbody thickness when outcrop proved too difficult due to steep topography. Multi-story channels appear to correlate across the Rifle Gap. Following the channel laterally reveals a significant increase in lateral continuity. Facies associations and their respective proportions were calculated from stratigraphic sections. Type IV was not looked at in detail due to their low reservoir potential and difficulty in recognition from erosional processes. and the inherent discontinuous nature of fluvial deposits. Lithofacies Eight lithofacies were identified. Lithofacies A. isolated channels (Type I) amalgamating at the ends and forming a single sandbody .URTeC 1618961 3 Methods In order to calculate apparent width. Axis thickness was assumed to be the thickest measurement along the sandbody.

URTeC 1618691 4 (Type II). . or amalgamated. Individual channels contain sand-on-sand contact (amalgamated channels) or are separated by a mudstone/highly-rippled sandstone (stacked channels) typically less than one meter thick. silt-to-lower very fine sandstone. G F 0% Type I H G Type II H 0% 0% F 0% 0% 0% B 5% C D A E 0% 2% 6% 14% E 36% C 20% A 58% B D 6% 53% H F 0% G Type III A G H 0% Type IV 0% 2% 0% 0% F B 0% 0% D 0% C E 10% 22% A 36% D 10% B C 7% E 23% 90% Figure 3. resulting in a vertically-isolated. and could represent a potential permeability baffle within a reservoir. In subsurface well logs this potential reservoir type would look very similar (if not identical) to a Type I sandbody. vertically and laterally. Type III sandbodies (multi-story channels) are the second most common potential reservoir type in Rifle Gap. Vertical amalgamation is not observed unlike the multi-story channels (Type III). Lithofacies abundance for different sandbody types. yet laterally-continuous. These sandbodies are composed of individual channels stacked. This contact is typically composed of a mudstone or highly-rippled. sandbody.

3 m for Type III. Boxes represent the 1 st and 3rd quartile. these sandbodies were not the focus of this study. however. Values similar to Type IV represent truncated channels giving the appearance of shorter-than-expected apparent lengths. Number of samples for each calculation are included on the side. the amalgamation point was not observed in outcrop.URTeC 1618691 5 Type IV sandbodies (crevasse channels and splays) are the least common sandbody type. A box-and-whisker plot (arranged by sandbody type) can be seen in Figure D. contribute to subsurface reservoir connectivity. Some Type III data points are well below their expected apparent width when compared to the trend line. In general. respectively. Data is plotted on Log-Log scale to help display the large range of values. Apparent widths and axis thicknesses were cross-plotted in order to give a general idea of channel geometry relationships. I Sample Number: II Type I = 25 Sandbody Type Type II = 2 Type III = 11 Type IV = 6 III IV 10 100 1000 Apparent Width (meters) Figure 4. Recognition of this amalgamation point is the key difference between types I and II. Type I sandbodies with large apparent widths may actually be Type II. 21. and Type III. This is likely due to the sandbody ends being covered by talus.3 m for Type I. sandbody dimensions increase from shortest/thinnest to longest/thickest as follows: Type IV.8 m for Type II. and 1. Type II = 496 m. Type I. Type II. Sandbody Geometries Geometries associated with sandbody types are related to channel architecture. A box-and-whisker plot for this data can be seen in Figure E. They may however. Type IV 38 m. Type 1 sandbodies have a mean apparent width of 158 meters. . Type III = 463 m. and appear to contain the lowest reservoir potential due to small thicknesses and relatively short apparent widths.9 m for Type IV. whiskers show range of data. Type 1 data points plot reasonably close to the trend line. 10. Mean axis thicknesses were determined to be 6. Thus. Box-and-whisker plot of apparent width for different sandbody types.

100 y = 0. A cross-plot of apparent width vs. whiskers show range of data. Isolated Channels Type II . axis thickness (Log-Log scale) shows a good general relationship that may aid in determination of well spacing.5374 Axis Thickness (m) 10 1 Type I .000 Apparent Width (m) Figure 6.Single-Story.Multi-Story Channels Type IV . Number of samples for each calculation are included on the side.Laterally Amalgamating Channels Type III . . Boxes represent the 1st and 3rd quartile.7514 R² = 0. Box-and-whisker plot of axis thickness for different sandbody types.1 10 100 1. The uppermost points are interpreted to be crevasse channels while the lowermost points are interpreted as crevasse splays.Crevasse Channels & Splays 0.URTeC 1618691 6 Type IV appears split between an upper and lower group of points. I Sample Number: Type I = 14 Type II = 2 Type III = 7 II Sandbody Type Type IV = 4 III IV 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 Axis Thickness (meters) Figure 5.1423x0.

URTeC 1618691 7 Conclusions Sandbodies in Rifle Gap show a variety of geometries and heterogeneities significant for reservoir production. Type II contacts are typically a highly-rippled sandstone. K. Four types of potential reservoirs were defined based on channel geometry and expected appearance in the subsurface: (I) single-story. and appear to change slightly between sandbody types. Anderson. Future exploration in the Upper Williams Fork requires a detailed look at the geometries of potential reservoirs as well as facies associations to produce these complex and highly-discontinuous reservoirs efficiently.C. Determination of Widths of Meander-Belt Sandstone Reservoirs from Vertical Downhole Data. southern Piceance Basin in Peterson. pp. This is important when assessing reservoirs in the Upper Williams Fork Formation where isolated sandbodies are common. Colorado. M. and P. Type IV is interpreted to be too small volumetrically to contribute economic amounts of hydrocarbons. Types I through III represent the largest potential for hydrocarbon production. 42 p. R. Tuscaloosa. whereas. Fractured Reservoirs: Characterization and Modeling Guidebook: Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists. Lorenz. and A. Previous work in Rifle Gap focused on depositional environment and general sandbody dimensions without looking at internal architecture and channel-fill in detail.. T. T. Piceance Basin Guidebook: Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists..L. Mesaverde Group.E. western Colorado in T. 1982. and S. Hoak. . Sedimentology of the Mesaverde Formation at Rifle Gap. Blomquist.. 75. eds. P. M. 11. Colorado and Implications for Gas- Bearing Intervals in the Subsurface: Sandia National Laboratories. net-to-gross sand content is significantly less along the Grand Hogback. T. 2003. In contrast to the previously-studied. Cumella. 67-102. 2003. Most differences are attributed to contacts present in Types II and III between individual channels. no. Searls. p. 53-73. Klawitter. D.1995.C. SAND-82-0604.. pp. Eight lithofacies were defined based on channel fill. stratigraphically-lower outcrops in the western part of the Piceance Basin. B.. 69. v. and C. 5. 1997. 385-442. 710-721. This contact appears more significant in Type III sandbodies where grain size can decrease from very fine sands to muds. J. Denver. isolated channels.E. J. Both are interpreted to be potential baffles/barriers in the subsurface when producing a reservoir. Hoak.A.. Law.E. 2002. AL. and D.L. Basin-centered Gas Systems: AAPG Bulletin. (II) laterally-amalgamating channels. v. although. S. 1985. Heinze.A. A. Lorenz. Net-to-gross reported here may be more representative of gas fields closer to the eastern basin margin.. References Cole. no. these sandbody types may aid in connectivity between reservoir compartments. Denver. Clark.. 1891-1919. Delineation of Piceance Basin basement structures using multiple source data: implications for fractured reservoir exploration in Proceedings of the International Unconventional Gas Symposium (Intergas ‘95). Colorado.M. and the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA) for funding this project.L.. Piceance Creek Basin. (III) multi-story channels. Prediction of fractured reservoir production trends and compartmentalization using an integrated analysis of basement structures in the Piceance Basin. A. Stratigraphic architecture and reservoir characteristics of the Mesaverde Group. Colorado: AAPG Bulletin. J.. p.K. and Klawitter.. Olson. This study furthers the understanding of sandbody geometries and channel-fill on the eastern margin of the Piceance Basin. Acknowledgements The authors thank the Geology and Geological Engineering Department at Colorado School of Mines. Klawitter. Hoak. and (IV) crevasse channels and splays.E. D.

Davis. H.. Sandstone-Body Dimensions in a Lower Coastal- Plain Setting: Lower Williams Fork Formation.URTeC 1618691 8 Patterson. 93.F. Piceance Basin. 10.E. Rulison Field. Cole. 2008. Pranter. Colorado. . Coal Canyon. 158-172.J. 1379-1401. and N.. USA: Journal of Geophysics and Engineering.. Davies. pp. P. M. 5. M. 7. M.L. and T. 2. Northern Piceance Basin...D. Sequence Stratigraphy of the Mesaverde Group and Ohio Creek Conglomerate.J. pp. 2009. Piceance Basin. K..D. Sommer. 115-128. ch.. Panjaitan. Pranter. Vargas. no. and T. pp. Characterization and 3D Reservoir Modelling of Fluvial Sandstones of the Williams Fork Formation. no. Colorado in Piceance Basin Guidebook: Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists. v.K. Colorado: AAPG Bulletin. R. Kronmueller. 2003. v.