Liard Basin Hydrocarbon Project

Liard Basin Hydrocarbon Project

Carbonate ridge overlain by shale near Sheaf Creek, Nahanni National Park. Credit: NTGS.


The Liard Basin Hydrocarbon Project is a multi-year investigation of the natural gas potential of the southwestern NWT.  We are specifically interested in the Middle Devonian to Carboniferous age (392 to 326 million years old) shales.  These shales, known as the Besa Formation, may be associated with significant quantities of natural gas.  The project is a scientific collaboration between the geological surveys of the Northwest and Yukon Territories and the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Natural Gas – Geoscience Division. All jurisdictions have agreed that there are universal benefits to a coordinated, collaborative approach to the understanding of the geology of this highly prospective shale.

geology map


 The study area lies in southeastern NWT near Fort Liard.  In 2012 and 2013, five outcrops to the north and west of Fort Liard were studied. The outcrop locations are marked on the map to the left with coloured ‘x’s  (Red - 2012 and Blue - 2013). Five exploration wells were also extensively sampled for geochemistry and studied in 2014. The wells are marked on the map with green squares.

Shale river bank


In recent years, the petroleum industry has successfully drilled for hydrocarbons associated with Upper and Lower Besa River shales in the British Columbia portion of the Liard Basin.  These formations will be correlated into surface outcrops and subsurface stratigraphy present in wells north of the 60th parallel in the Northwest Territories and Yukon and evaluated for their hydrocarbon potential. The presence of infrastructure in the Liard area of the Northwest Territories makes this region an area of geoscientific focus for our group.

Helicopter on mountain


The field program will collect data to determine source rock characteristics of strata examined as well as to provide datasets to aid in the regional correlation between other surface sections and subsurface wells. At each outcrop section, detailed lithologic descriptions are completed. Spectral gamma-radiation counts are measured with a handheld spectrometer at one-metre intervals. Shale chip samples are collected at one-metre intervals for rock-eval/total organic carbon (RE/TOC), vitrinite reflectance (VR), lithogeochemistry, x-ray diffraction mineralogy (XRD), and microfossil biostratigraphy. Similar studies will be conducted on samples collected from subsurface wells.

Rock with Toonie for scale


2012 – Scoping fieldwork: three measured and sampled stratigraphic sections completed (NT/YT/BC).
2013 – Fieldwork: two measured and sampled stratigraphic sections completed (NT).
2014 – Well sampling: cuttings from five wells sampled through black shale units (NT).
2015 – Collaborative hydrocarbon resource assessment with NEB.
2017 – Project reports published. In Progress.


Partners and Support

Kathryn Fiess and Jonathan Rocheleau– Northwest Territory Geological Survey
Dr. Leanne Pyle – VI Geosciences
Filippo Ferri – BC Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Natural Gas
Tiffani Fraser – Yukon Geological Survey
Dr. Matt Hutchinson – Yukon Geological Survey
Margot McMechan – Geological Survey of Canada


Liard Basin, Besa River Formation, Northwest Territories, RE/TOC, Chemostratigraphy, Devonian shales, Carboniferous shales, Shale gas play, vitrinite reflectance, rock- eval, total organic carbon