The Pierre Shale was described by Meek and Hayden in 1862 in the Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences (Philadelphia). They described it as a dark-gray shale, fossiliferous, with veins and seams of gypsum, and concretions of iron oxide. The Pierre Shale is about 700 feet (210m) thick at the type locality. It overlies the Niobrara division and underlies the Fox Hills beds. It was named for an occurrence near Fort Pierre on the Missouri River in South Dakota.
The Pierre Shale is the host formation for commercial oil deposits in the Florence and Canon City fields in Fremont County, Colorado, and the Boulder oil field in Boulder County, Colorado. More recently, natural gas has been extracted in the Raton Basin in southern Colorado. The shale formation is usually too impermeable for hydrocarbon extraction, but produces in areas where it is naturally fractured or fractured by artificial means.