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Williston and Powder River Basins Groundwater Availability Study

 

Study area map showing hydrogeologic units

 

-Introduction
-Need for Study
-Purpose, Objective, and Scope of Study
-Background
-Previous and Ongoing Numerical Models of Groundwater Flow
-Selected References
-Related Links
-Publications and Presentations
-Related News Stories and Press Releases
-Research Team

-Project Area Photos
    -Williston Structural basin
    
-Powder River Structural basin

 

 

Introduction

The development of two nationally important energy-producing areas, the Williston structural basin (containing the Bakken Formation) and Powder River structural basin, provide a critical opportunity to study the water-energy nexus within a groundwater context. Large volumes of water are needed for energy development in these basins. The hydraulically connected aquifers in the regional glacial, lower Tertiary, and Upper Cretaceous aquifer systems are the shallowest, most accessible, and in some cases, the only potable aquifers within the Northern Great Plains.

This study area is part of the USGS Groundwater Resources Program to assess and quantify the availability of the Nation’s groundwater resources. 

Oil-field facility for wells drilled into the Bakken Formation, North Dakota

Interested in USGS water-quality information for the Williston basin?  See: http://steppe.cr.usgs.gov

Find out about other USGS projects in the Williston Basin


Need for Study

 Flaring of natural gas from the Bakken Formation in Montana

The Williston and Powder River structural basins contain energy resources of national importance. Coal/lignite, oil, natural gas, and uranium, present in both structural basins in large quantities, currently are extracted from Tertiary-age and older geologic units; however, rapid technological advances (for example, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing), coupled with ever-increasing resource discovery and characterization, are predicted to dramatically increase development of these energy resources in both basins in the near future. Increased extraction of these energy resources will require withdrawal of ever-increasing volumes of groundwater from the glacial, lower Tertiary, and Upper Cretaceous aquifer systems.

This study will provide the USGS with additional information on important aquifers in the States of Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, and the Provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada. The study will provide an improved understanding of the glacial and bedrock aquifer systems in the context of a large regional system that is undergoing developmental pressure with current and future competing water uses. Simulation of groundwater flow also will allow evaluation of different water-use and energy-development scenarios, as well as evaluation of possible future climatic effects on these aquifers. Perhaps most importantly, the study provides a unique opportunity to understand this regional system prior to large-scale energy development. Data compiled as part of the study will become part of the national USGS water-resources database, and will contribute to the USGS mission by describing and increasing the understanding of the Nation’s groundwater resources.

 

Purpose, Objective, and Scope of Study

The purpose of the Williston and Powder River Basins groundwater availability study is to quantify the current groundwater resource, as part of a USGS National assessment.

The overall objective of this study is to assess the groundwater resource, particularly as energy resources are developed. This objective will advance tools, information, and conceptual understanding of this areally extensive regional transboundary aquifer system.

The scope includes:

  • Williston structural basin. Develop a hydrogeologic framework, estimate hydrologic budget components, refine the conceptual model of groundwater flow, and numerically simulate the regional groundwater flow for the glacial, lower Tertiary, and Upper Cretaceous aquifer systems.

  • Powder River structural basin. Develop a hydrogeologic framework, estimate hydrologic budget components, and refine the conceptual model for the lower Tertiary and Upper Cretaceous aquifer systems.

Background


Physiography

The Williston and Powder River structural basins underly about 116,800 square miles (mi2) in parts of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming and are the shallowest aquifers of the Northern Great Plains aquifer system. Topography in this area is fairly flat with a gently rolling land surface underlain mostly by sedimentary rocks composed of sandstone, coal, and shale. Large river systems such as the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers erode the relatively soft sedimentary rock and create several hundred feet of local topographic relief. The area is semiarid, with mean precipitation ranging from 12 to 20 inches per year (in/yr) and available precipitation (difference between monthly precipitation and potential evapotranspiration) ranging from 0 to 5 in/yr (Reilly and others, 2008). Pasture and hayland is the predominant land-cover category (70 percent) in the study area (Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium, 2011).

Hydrogeology
Total thickness of the Quaternary, lower Tertiary, and Upper Cretaceous aquifers range from 2,900 feet (ft) in the Williston structural basin to as much as 8,500 ft in the Powder River structural basin. Lower Tertiary-age geologic units include primarily the Sentinel Butte, Tongue River, and the Slope/Cannonball Members of the Fort Union Formation in the Williston structural basin and the Tongue River, Lebo, and Tullock Members of the Fort Union Formation in the Powder River structural basin. Upper Cretaceous-age geologic units include the Lance Formation, Hell Creek Formation, and the Fox Hills Sandstone. The basal confining units are the Upper Cretaceous-age Lewis Shale, Bearpaw Shale, and Pierre Shale.   

Groundwater recharge primarily is from infiltration of precipitation (rainfall and snowmelt) and streams that cross aquifers or aquifer boundaries. Total estimated recharge to the Williston and Powder River basins is 4,560 and 1,500 cubic feet per second, respectively. Estimated precipitation recharge is 26 and 15 percent of total recharge for the Williston and Powder River basins, respectively. Estimated recharge from stream is 71 and 80 percent of total recharge for the Williston and Powder River basins, respectively. Groundwater discharge primarily is to streams and springs and is estimated to be about 97 and 92 percent of total discharge for the Williston and Powder River basins, respectively. Most of the remaining discharge results from pumped and flowing wells.

Groundwater flow in the Williston structural basin generally is from the west and southwest toward the east, where discharge to streams occurs. Locally, in the uppermost hydrogeologic units, groundwater generally is unconfined and flows from topographically high to low areas, where discharge to streams occurs. Groundwater flow in the Powder River structural basin generally is toward the north, with local variations, particularly in the upper Fort Union aquifer, where flow is toward streams.

Thickness of A, glacial aquifer system in and near the Williston structural basin and B, combined lower Tertiary and Upper Cretaceous aquifer systems in the Williston and Powder River structural basins.Generalized cross sections showing the three-dimensional hydrogeographic framework from land surface to the top of basal confining units in the Williston and Powder River structural basins.





































 


Energy development
Water resources are an important component of the energy resources in the Williston and Powder River struc­tural basins. The lower Tertiary- and Upper Cretaceous-age geologic units in the Williston and Powder River structural basins contain most of the Nation’s reserves of coal/lignite and coal-bed natural gas. The overlying glacial deposits of the Williston structural basin also serve as a water supply for one of the Nation’s most rapidly developing oil reserves, the Bakken and Three Forks Formations. Continued development in the region includes alternative energy, industry, irrigation, and growing demands for domestic and municipal water and depends on the quantity and quality of groundwater available from these shallow and accessible aquifers. Surface water is heavily appropriated in most of the area, and the supply is not dependable due to variable streamflow in upper river reaches. The study area includes three of the Nation’s largest surface-water reservoirs: Fort Peck Lake, Lake Sakakawea, and Lake Oahe, all located on the Missouri River.

Energy development in the study area


Previous and Ongoing Numerical Models of Groundwater FlowPrevious and ongoing numerical models of groundwater flow in the study area

Williston structural basin

  • Northern Great Plains (Downey, 1986). Grouped the lower Tertiary- and Upper Cretaceous-age geologic units as a single model aquifer layer. Finite-difference cell size of about 50 mi on a side.
  • Lower Tertiary- and Upper Cretaceous- age units in SW part of Williston structural basin (Hotchkiss and Levings, 1982). Modeled as five layers.  Cell size of 6 mi on a side.
  • Fox Hills aquifer in Canada and central United States (Anna, 2011). This aquifer was the upper layer in a regional model.
  • Fox Hills-Hell Creek aquifer in the center of the Williston structural basin (Fischer, North Dakota State Water Commission, ongoing).
  • Fox Hills-Hell Creek aquifer in the center of the Williston structural basin (Fischer, North Dakota State Water Commission, WRI No 54, 2013).

Powder River structural basin

  • Lower Tertiary- and Upper Cretaceous- age units (Hotchkiss and Levings, 1986). Modeled as five layers.  Cell size of 6 mi on a side.
  • Lower Tertiary Wasatch and Fort Union aquifers in southeastern Montana (ALL Consulting and CH2M Hill, 2001).  Modeled as 17 layers with 0.5-mi cell size.
  • Lower Tertiary Fort Union aquifers in Southeastern Montana (Wheaton and Metesh, 2002). Modeled as 6 layers with 0.25-mi cell size.
  • Lower Tertiary Wasatch and Fort Union aquifers in the Powder River structural basin in Wyoming (Applied Hydrology Associates and Greystone Environmental Consultants, 2002). Modeled as 17 layers with 0.5-mi cell size.
  • Fort Union Formation in Powder River structural basin in Montana (Myers, 2009).  Modeled as nine layers with 0.8-kilometer cell size.







For Selected References click Here


Related Links

Publications and Presentations

Publications:

Feltis, R.D., Lewis, B.D., Frasure, Rita L., Rioux, Ronald, P., Jauhola, C.A., and Hotchkiss, W.R., 1981, Selected geologic data from the Northern Great Plains area of Montana: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 81-415, table 2 (in excel format).

Aurand, Katherine, 2013, Groundwater recharge estimates for the lower Tertiary and Upper Cretaceous Aquifers in the Williston and Powder River structural basins: Rapid City, South Dakota, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, M.S. Thesis, 107 pgs.

Bednar, Jennifer M., 2013, Interaction of groundwater and surface water in the Williston and Powder River structural basins: Rapid City, South Dakota, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, M.S. Thesis, 110 pgs.

Thamke, J.N., LeCain, G.D., Ryter, D.W., Sando, Roy, and Long, A.J., 2014, Hydrogeologic framework of the uppermost principal aquifer systems in the Williston and Powder River structural basins, United States and Canada: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 20145047, 38 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20145047.

Long, A.J., Aurand, K.R., Bednar, J.M., Davis, K.W., Mckaskey, J.D.R.G., and Thamke, J.N., 2014, Conceptual model of the uppermost principal aquifer systems in the Williston and Powder River structural basins, United States and Canada: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 20145055, 41 p., with appendix, http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20145055.

Abstracts and Presentations:

2012

Aurand, Katherine R.*, Long, Andrew J., and Putnam, Larry D., 2012, Groundwater recharge estimates using a soil-water-balance model for the Powder River and Williston structural basins [abs.]: 2012 Western South Dakota Hydrology Conference, April 19, 2012, Rapid City, South Dakota.  Poster Presentation.

Aurand, Katherine R.*, Long, Andrew J., 2012, Groundwater recharge estimates for the Powder River and Williston structural basins [abs.]: American Institute of Professional Geologists’ 49th Annual Meeting, Geology and Natural Resources of the Black Hills and Adjoining Basins, September 22-26, 2012, Rapid City, South Dakota.  Poster Presentation

Joanna N. Thamke, Andrew J. Long, Larry D. Putnam, Gary D. LeCain, Derek W. Ryter, Timothy T. Bartos, Roy Sando, Kyle W. Davis, Adel E. Haj, Katherine R. Aurand, Jonathan D.R.G. Mckaskey, Jennifer M. Bednar*, Diane K. Rauch, and Jeremy M. Vinton, 2012 Groundwater availability in the Williston and Powder River basins, North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba [abs.]: 57th Annual Midwest Ground Water Conference, October 1-3, 2012, Minneapolis, Minnesota  Poster Presentation

Reiten, Jon*, and Thamke, Joanna*, 2012, Energy development and water needs in the Williston basin [abs.]: 2012 Montana Section American Water Resources Association, October 11-12, 2012, Anaconda, Montana. Oral Presentation

2013

Aurand, Katherine R.*, 2013, A comparison of groundwater recharge estimation methods in the Williston and Powder River structural basins in the Northern Great Plains [abs.]: Association of Environmental and Engineering Geologists’ Rocky Mountain Section Student Night, Golden, Colorado.  Poster Presentation

Aurand, Katherine R.*, 2013, A comparison of groundwater recharge estimation methods in the Williston and Powder River structural basins in the Northern Great Plains [abs.]: 2013 Western South Dakota Hydrology Conference, April 18, 2013, Rapid City, South Dakota, Poster Presentation

Bednar, Jennifer M*, 2013, Interaction of groundwater and surface water in the Williston and Powder River structural basins [abs.]: 2013 Western South Dakota Hydrology Conference, April 18, 2013, Rapid City, South Dakota. Oral Presentation

Kyle W. Davis*, Andrew J. Long, Joanna N. Thamke, Katherine R. Aurand, Timothy T. Bartos, Jennifer M. Bednar, Gary D. LeCain, Derek W. Ryter, Roy Sando, 2013, Groundwater availability and flow processes in the Williston and Powder River basins in the Northern Great Plains [abs.]: 2013 Western South Dakota Hydrology Conference, April 18, 2013, Rapid City, South Dakota. Oral Presentation

Jennifer M. Bednar*, 2013, Interaction of Groundwater and Surface Water in the Williston and Powder River Structural Basins [abs.]: 2013 Midwest Groundwater Conference, Sept 23-25, 2013, Bismarck, North Dakota. Oral Presentation

Kyle W. Davis*, Andrew J. Long, Joanna N. Thamke, Katherine R. Aurand, Timothy T. Bartos, Jennifer M. Bednar, Gary D. LeCain, Derek W. Ryter, Roy Sando, 2013, Groundwater availability and flow processes in the Williston and Powder River basins in the Northern Great Plains [abs.]: 2013 Midwest Groundwater Conference, Bismarck, North Dakota. Oral Presentation

Jennifer M. Bednar*, 2013, Interaction of Groundwater and Surface Water in the Williston and Powder River Structural Basins [abs.]: AIPG 50th Annual National Meeting, Oct 23-26, 2013, Broomfield, Colorado. Oral Presentation

2014

Jennifer M. Bednar*, Andrew J. Long, Joanna N. Thamke, Kyle W. Davis, Katherine R. Aurand, Timothy T. Bartos, Gary D. LeCain, Derek W. Ryter, and Roy Sando, 2014, Assessing groundwater availability of the Williston and Powder River structural basins, Northern Great Plains [abs.]:  2014 Western South Dakota Hydrology Meeting, April 9, 2014, Rapid City, SD. Poster Presentation

Jennifer M. Bednar* and Andrew J. Long, 2014, Development of a new methodology to estimate base flow using multivariate analysis in the Northern Great Plains [abs.]: 2014 Western South Dakota Hydrology Meeting, April 9, 2014, Rapid City, SD. Oral Presentation

Jennifer M. Bednar*, Andrew J. Long, Joanna N. Thamke, Kyle W. Davis, Katherine R. Aurand, Timothy T. Bartos, Gary D. LeCain, Derek W. Ryter, and Roy Sando, 2014, Assessing groundwater availability of the Williston and Powder River structural basins, Northern Great Plains [abs.]: Minnesota Ground Water Association Spring 2014 Conference, April 22, 2014, St. Paul, Minnesota. Poster Presentation

Katherine R. Aurand and Joanna Thamke*, 2014, A comparison of groundwater recharge estimation methods in the Williston and Powder River structural basins [abs.]: Geological Society of America, Rocky Mountain and Cordilleran Joint Meeting, May 19-21, 2014. Bozeman, MT. Poster presentation

Jennifer M. Bednar*, Andrew J. Long, and Roy Sando, 2014, Development of a new methodology to estimate base flow using multivariate analysis in the Northern Great Plains [abs.]: Geological Society of America, Rocky Mountain and Cordilleran Joint Meeting, May 19-21, 2014. Bozeman, MT. Oral presentation

Kyle W. Davis, Andrew J. Long, Joanna N. Thamke*, Timothy T. Bartos, Jennifer M. Bednar, Gary D. LeCain, Derek W. Ryter, Roy Sando, Katherine Aurand, 2014, Groundwater availability and flow processes in the Williston and Powder River basins in the Northern Great Plains [abs.]: Geological Society of America, Rocky Mountain and Cordilleran Joint Meeting, May 19-21, 2014. Bozeman, MT. Oral presentation

*presenter

Related News Stories and Press Releases


Williston structural basin

 

Hydraulic Fracturing



Powder River structural basin
Coal Train

 

 


Research Team

Research Team Members
Joanna Thamke, Project Lead, Montana Groundwater Specialist
U.S. Geological Survey      
Montana Water Science Center  
3162 Bozeman Ave.    
Helena, Montana 59601    
Office telephone: 406-457-5923   
Email: jothamke@usgs.gov
Andy Long, Lead Groundwater Modeler 
U.S. Geological Survey 
South Dakota Water Science Center
1608 Mt. View Rd. 
Rapid City, South Dakota 57702
Office telephone: 605-394-3237 
Email: ajlong@usgs.gov 
Roy Sando, Physical Scientist/GIS Specialist
U.S. Geological Survey
Montana Water Science Center
3162 Bozeman Ave.
Helena, Montana Helena, Montana 59601
Office telephone: 406-457-5953
Email: tsando@usgs.gov   

Kyle Davis, Groundwater Modeler
U.S. Geological Survey
South Dakota Water Science Center
1608 Mt. View Rd.
Rapid City, South Dakota 57702
Office telephone: 605-394-3237
Email: kyledavis@usgs.gov 

Tim Bartos, Wyoming Groundwater Specialist 
U.S. Geological Survey
Wyoming Water Science Center
521 Progress Circle, Suite 6
Cheyenne, Wyoming 82007 
Office telephone: 307-775-9160 
Email: ttbartos@usgs.gov 

Gary LeCain, Hydrologist
U.S. Geological Survey 
Central Region, Office of Groundwater 
West 6th Ave. & Kipling St.
Denver Federal Center Building 53, Room F1217
Lakewood, Colorado 80225-0046 
Office telephone: 303-236-1475
Email: gdlecain@usgs.gov 

Derek Ryter, Physical Scientist
U.S. Geological Survey
Oklahoma Water Science Center
202 NW 66th, Bldg 7
Oklahoma City, OK 73116
Office telephone: 405-810-4410
Email: dryter@usgs.gov 

Geoff Delin, Regional Groundwater Specialist
U.S. Geological Survey
Central Region, Office of Groundwater 
West 6th Ave. & Kipling St.
Denver Federal Center Building 53, Room F1225
Lakewood, Colorado 80225-0046 
Office telephone: 303-236-1471
Email: delin@usgs.gov
 
 

 

Oil Wells in the Bakken Formation

 

   

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