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History of Geologic Investigations and Oil Operations from Teapot Dome, Wyoming

Anderson, Thomas C.1
1 Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center, Casper, WY.

The Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center (RMOTC), a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) site, operates the Teapot Dome Oilfield near Casper, Wyoming, as a technology testing and demonstration center. In addition to the testing projects, the field still produces over 200 barrels of oil per day from several hundred active wells. Teapot Dome has a rich, sometimes infamous history, which provides context for current operations.

The structure was initially discovered and named by geologist C.H. Wegemann in 1911, as a probable oil-bearing anticline on trend with the giant Salt Creek Field. Soon after that it was established as Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 3, and placed off-limits for development. The Teapot Dome Scandal during the Harding administration of the 1920’s involved leasing and drilling the reserve. But the eventual outcome of the scandal was the U.S Supreme Court invalidating the leases and re-establishing the site as a reserve once more. Nevertheless, there are remnant vestiges today of the development during the 1920’s, including concrete foundations, fireplaces, sidewalks, excavations, and old pipes.

The federal government eventually authorized full field development in the 1970’s. High-resolution, low-altitude aerial photography obtained at this time has now been indexed and incorporated into a GIS system, and this provides a basis for surface geologic mapping initiatives as well as locating historical sites from the abortive development of the 1920’s. Members of the RMOTC staff have now created a historic map of the 1920’s “camps” (townsites) in the Teapot Dome oil field area.

The author, a petroleum geologist, is conducting numerous scientific studies at the site, including collaborations with academic research partners. This includes subsurface interpretation and modeling in support of field operations, research studies, and enhanced oil recovery opportunities, including carbon dioxide injection. Detailed surface geological mapping is also included in this effort. One recent project has been mapping the Quaternary terraces, both erosional and depositional, and relating those terrace ages to expected soil conditions as well as historic cultural sites.

One objective of a planned future Visitors Center will be to recognize the historical contribution to the site, the evolution of geologic understanding, and the establishment of RMOTC itself as a testing center, helping visitors to become aware of the activities over the past 100 years.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90090©2009 AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition, Denver, Colorado, June 7-10, 2009