History of Geologic Investigations and Oil Operations from Teapot Dome, Wyoming
Energy & Geoscience Institute
Teapot Dome has a rich, sometimes infamous history. Currently operated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the field still produces about 200 barrels of oil per day (BOPD) from several hundred active wells, but in its heyday, it produced 6000 BOPD, and over 1300 wells were drilled. Cumulative production is about 30 MMBO, primarily from the Cretaceous Shannon Sandstone, Wall Creek (Frontier) Sands, and the Pennsylvanian/Permian Tensleep Formation. Minor production also comes from the Cretaceous Dakota and Muddy Formations. From an unconventional perspective, significant production has come from the Niobrara and Steele Shale Formations, all in vertical wells and influenced by the presence of natural fractures. 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 (1915) 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 was indexed and incorporated into a GIS system, and this provided a basis for surface geologic mapping initiatives as well as locating historical sites from the abortive development of the 1920's. Field staff have created a historic map of the 1920's 'camps' (townsites) in the Teapot Dome oil field area. The author, a petroleum geologist who previously worked at the site, conducted numerous scientific studies of Teapot Dome, 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 was also included in this effort. One project was mapping the Quaternary terraces, both erosional and depositional, and relating those terrace ages to expected soil conditions as well as historic cultural sites.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90169©2013 AAPG Rocky Mountain Section 62nd Annual Meeting, Salt Lake City, Utah, September 22-24, 2013