Utah is an important source of crude oil and natural gas and is currently ranked 11th in United States production. Driven by a decades-long increase in Utah’s oil and gas production, the Utah Geological Survey (UGS) recently released an updated Oil and Gas Fields Map of Utah that shows where all successful drilling activity has occurred, most of which is within the Uinta Basin of northeastern Utah and Paradox Basin in southeastern Utah.
Exploration and Production History
Hydrocarbons in Utah were first recognized in 1850 by Captain Howard Stansbury in the form of oil seeps at Rozel Point along the northern shore of Great Salt Lake. Exploration throughout the state became more common in the late 1800s through the 1920s and slowed during the Great Depression.
The first commercial oil field, Ashley Valley (~8 miles southeast of Vernal), was discovered in 1948 and initiated a focus on drilling deeper wells. Production in the Paradox Basin began to flourish in the 1950s with the discovery of the Greater Aneth field. Since then, other major discoveries include, but are not limited to: Altamont, Bluebell, and Monument Butte oil fields and Greater Natural Buttes natural gas field in the Uinta Basin; Anschutz Ranch, Pineview, and Covenant oil fields in the Utah thrust belt; and Lisbon, Big Flat, and Salt Wash oil fields in the northern Paradox Basin near Moab.
Not all of Utah’s produced oil flows as easily as Jed Clampett’s “bubblin’ crude.” Although there are some crude oil plays that have low viscosity (little resistance to flow) and require less refining, much of the crude extracted in the Uinta Basin contains significant amounts of paraffin. This oil is referred to as “yellow wax” and “black wax,” and requires special refining to make more commonly recognized products. These waxy crude oils are found within the Tertiary Green River and Wasatch Formations and are sourced from lacustrine organic-rich rocks.
Previous versions of Utah’s oil and gas fields map were published in 1983 and 2004. The recently published version displays all producing fields that have been discovered since 2004 as well as field expansions and additional pipelines, like the 42-inch diameter Ruby natural gas pipeline in northern Utah. This updated map also displays the names and ages of all oil, gas, and carbon dioxide (CO2) reservoirs and gas storage fields.
Using the Map
Each field label is colored according to the primary commodity produced (oil-green, gas-red, or CO2-purple). Beneath the field name is listed any field designation that applies. After the field designations are the field’s producing or abandoned (A) reservoirs.
For example, Lodgepole field in Summit County produces oil (note the green label). Listed following the field name are “(D) (HD) Jtc, Jn (A)” meaning Lodgepole hosts a produced water disposal project (D), at least one horizontal well (HD), current production is in the Jurassic-age Twin Creek Limestone (Jtc), and though there used to be production in the Jurassic Nugget Sandstone, the reservoir is now abandoned.
Each field has similar information, thus providing the current field status and also the field’s history. Each field polygon is colored according to the age of the predominant reservoir rock. For example, many of the fields within the Uinta Basin produce from the Tertiary Green River and Wasatch Formations and are colored orange. Most of the production in the Paradox Basin is from the Middle Pennsylvanian Paradox Formation represented with blue. Because the map displays the boundaries for major basins and uplifts, it is a quick reference to ascertain where each field fits geographically and geologically.
In addition to the designations and history for each field, the map contains active pipelines colored by commodity and labeled with the last known operator, flow direction, and diameter. Pipelines transport crude oil, natural gas, CO2, or refined products to refineries, processing plants, and distributors. Ownership for several of the pipelines has passed through numerous hands since the previous map version. The map also shows the name and capacity of oil refineries located north of Salt Lake City and natural gas processing plants throughout the state.
The information on the map is beneficial for geologists, engineers, investors, landowners, and other stakeholders, as well as state, federal, and county government regulators and planners. In addition to easily identifying areas of current production and potential exploration, the map also shows areas that cannot be developed such as national parks and monuments, recreation areas, historic sites, and rock units not expected to contain oil and gas resources such as most volcanic rocks and ancient Precambrian rocks.
The UGS and State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration funded this map with the intent to provide an up-to-date, quick reference for Utah’s oil and gas resources, production, transportation, and processing. The map, UGS Circular 119, is available for purchase on CD with GIS files, or as a print-on-demand map at the Utah Department of Natural Resources Map and Bookstore, 1-888-UTAHMAP, http://www.mapstore.utah.gov.