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Sedimentary deposits north of the western Snake River Plain host Idaho’s first and only producing oil and gas field. They consist of the lower to middle Miocene Payette Formation, the middle to upper Miocene Poison Creek and Chalk Hills Formations, and the Pliocene to lower Pleistocene Glenns Ferry Formation. Using new geochronology, palynomorph biostratigraphy, and geologic mapping, we connect updip surface features to subsurface petroleum play elements. The Payette Formation is a likely main source of the hydrocarbons, and acts as one of the reservoirs in the unnamed basin. Here, we redefine the Payette Formation as 0 to ~3,500 ft (0 to ~1,000 m) of mudstone, with lesser amounts of sandstone overlying and interbedded with the Columbia River Basalt Group and Weiser volcanic field. Index palynomorphs, including Liquidambar and Pterocarya, present in Idaho during and immediately after the middle Miocene climatic optimum, and new U–Pb ages of 16.39 and 15.88 Ma, help establish the thickness and extent of the formation. For the first time, these biostratigraphic markers have been defined for the oil and gas wells. The Poison Creek Formation is sandstone interbedded with mudstone that is ~800–1,800 ft (250–550 m) thick. The Chalk Hills Formation is a tuffaceous siltstone, claystone, and sandstone that is as much as ~4,200 ft (1,280 m) thick. New U–Pb ages are 10.1, 9.04, and 9.00 for the Poison Creek Formation, along with maximum depositional ages of 10.7 to 9.9 Ma for four samples from the Poison Creek Formation. A single U–Pb age of 7.78 Ma was determined from pumice low in the Chalk Hills Formation. Like the Payette Formation, the Poison Creek Formation can be a reservoir, whereas the Chalk Hills Formation acts as a sealing mudstone facies. The overlying sandstone, siltstone, and conglomerate of the Glenns Ferry Formation act as the overburden to the petroleum system in the subsurface, and were important for burial and hydrocarbon maturation. The Glenns Ferry Formation is up to 500 ft (150 m) thick in the study area, as much has been eroded. Whereas the Payette and Poison Creek Formations were deposited during the mid-Miocene climatic optimum amongst and above volcanic flows, the Chalk Hills and Glenns Ferry Formations were deposited within ancient Lake Idaho during an overall increase in aridity and cooling after the mid-Miocene climatic optimum.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.