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1960s Activity in Southern Michigan with a Look North Late in the Decade

The first years of the decade were dominated by development of the Albion-Pulaski- Scipio "Golden Gulch" of southwestern Michigan as oil and gas explorer/producers rushed to fill in the tapestry of well completions in that area. Marathon Oil Company was the biggest single developer of the majors. Along with Marathon, Sun Oil Company and Humble dominating half or more of the productive area.

But independent operators were also in the frey. The September 30, 1960 edition of the Michigan Oil & Gas News reported 23 active drilling units in Calhoun County, 23 in Hillsdale County and 33 in Jackson County. The names on those well locations included: McClure Oil Company; Ohio-Marathon Oil Company; Turtle Oil Company; Kelly Oil; Sun Oil; Perry Fulk; Don Davis; Mike Cowen; Collins Brothers of Illinois; Cliff Collins; George Hanners; Wolverine Gas and Oil; Rudman; Walter Balukonis; Woody Palmer; Humble Oil Company; Mask-Markel-Wood; Glynn Trolz; C. J. Simpson; Ed Rovsek; Bell and Gault; John Neyer; Ray Miller and Ivan Tenney among others.

The Albion-Pulaski-Scipio Trend was not the only feature playing onscreen in the 1960s Michigan oil and gas theater. Over in the southeast area of the state, the St. Clair-Macomb county region was becoming a huge petroleum producing area. More than 34 oil and gas fields were developed in the two-county area. Some of these were one well fields because of the small "top" of the pinnacle reefs in the Niagaran formation. Other fields like the 75 well, 1,780 acre Peters Field were larger, multiple well fields. Capac, Mussey and Lynn townships with 9,120 acres covered the biggest area of the St. Clair fields, producing over 20 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The Lanphar interests of Detroit were the largest developers in that field.

The two biggest fields of that area were the Belle River and Ray fields. Belle River, discovered by Harold McClure, Jr. and Mt. Pleasant's I.W. "Bucky" Hartman, covered only 750 acres but produced 24 billion cubic feet of natural gas from an estimated 52 billion in place before conversion to storage in 1965. Ray Field was enlarged by Consumers Power to 650 acres with 25 wells and produced 35 billion cubic feet of natural gas (of an estimated 50 billion in place) before 1966 conversion to a storage field.

St. Clair-Macomb county area explorer/operators of record in the 1960s included: James Barwick, Glen Mills, Charles Moskowitz, Cliff Collin, Consumers Power, Michigan Consolidated Gas, Leonard Oil and E. Edwin Brehm, among others.


Other 1960s Exploration

In 1961 Alma's Harold M. McClure Jr., then Michigan Oil And Gas Association President, launched a three test well drilling program on Beaver Island, 20 miles across Lake Michigan from Charlevoix. None were successful but the geological records of the test wells proved invaluable to deep formation Michigan Basin academic researchers and oil and gas explorers. In 1967, McClure was elected President of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), the first Michigan oilman to be elevated to the highest elected office of that national organization. He served for two years, putting more national focus on Michigan's role in national petroleumdom.

Some people drilled deep into the Michigan Basin. Brazos, Sun and Superior Oil companies partnered in the 1960s to have Mt. Pleasant's Union Rotary, Inc. drill a 12,996 foot test well in Ogemaw County, which finished at 11,012 feet. Pure drilled a deep test well in the middle of the 1930s Porter Field.

Others took a look at the shallow regions of the Michigan Basin. Mt. Pleasant independent Murrell Welch, a former member of the Brazos engineering staff in Michigan, went back to where Dow had drilled in the 1950s and drilled for the shallow (1,400 feet) Antrim Shale natural gas. He eventually drilled 16 wells, built a natural gas processing plant and began selling gas to Michigan Consolidated Gas . Welch and partners Tom Mask, Ray Markel and Lud Segerlund later made a deal with Shell, who drilled a deeper Niagaran test well within the Anrtim block, which turned out to be one of the most productive natural gas reefs found in Northern Michigan.


Explorationists Give Northern Michigan More Than a Glance

Encouraged by the huge Albion-Pulaski-Scipio Trend in southwestern Michigan, and inspired by the prolific pinnacle reef and oil and gas "one well fields" being found in the southwestern lower Michigan, oil folk within and without Michigan began to cast an eye to the geological promise of the Northern Lower Michigan "bowl edges." The idea was simple. If one edge of the bowl held great deposits of oil, the other side of the bowl might have more of the same. Sparsely populated, overwhelmingly dominated by State mineral holdings, Northern Michigan's lower lease prices (because of lower apparent petroleum potential) offered the lure of the availability of large blocks of promising land for a comparatively low cost. A huge lease play started across northern Michigan, although many thought the investments would prove unproductive and the folks leasing would end up with a lot of "ram pasture" (areas not oil or gas active).

Consumers Power Company, and Amoco (then Panhandle American), Shell, Getty, and Mobil all launched huge leasing campaigns along the northern Michigan Niagaran reef trend, a 27 mile or so band extending from Manistee County to the southwest to Alpena County in the northeast. While the first four companies stayed in northern Michigan, Mobil later shifted their interests to the Niagaran "fairway" to the south, a narrower band looping from about Ottawa County to the west through Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Oakland and Macomb counties to leave Michigan into Canada at St. Clair County.

Some believed the North Country held a mirror image "crack in the edge of the bowl like the Albion-Scipio trend. While others were convinced that Mother Nature had placed pinnacle reefs on the north, as well as the south, rim of that ancient tropical sea that is Michigan's geological heritage. Either way, a lot of Michigan leases were written in the latter-mid 1960s.

In 1963, C.J. Simpson and "Betsie" Davis put together several northern wildcat exploratory wells and drilled a test in Cold Springs Township of Kalkaska County that was production cased in the Niagaran and worked on for months after showing some oil. Eventually the Simpson well proved uneconomic and was abandoned.

Greenville independents Bill and Byron Cook who would open Presque County Niagaran oil and gas operations with their 1968 Draisey 1 well drilled in North Allis Township (near Onaway) to 6,783 foot. The Onaway Field (later renamed North Allis Field), produced 6,357 barrels of oil and before 1985 abandonment. This was a relatively small well by later standards but the Cooks had proved the Niagaran could be done in Presque Isle County. Suddenly there were seismograph trucks everywhere in the north.

Not far from Simpson's 1965 dry holes, Shell started a 1968 seven well drilling program in Kalkaska and Otsego counties and hit with the third well located in Otsego County. Shell announced plans to invest $10 million on oil and gas exploration and development in northern Michigan (approximately $52 million in 2004 dollars) at a September 1968 press conference. Meanwhile Pan American worked closely with Consumer Power. They seemed to have a quick Niagaran winner in Kalkaska County, which later proved uneconomic but nonetheless put Kalkaska County in the Niagaran oil and gas business.

At the same time, McClure Oil Company (working with Pan American and Shell) drilled into Niagaran natural gas in Grand Traverse County's Union Township, causing Harold M. McClure Jr. to dub the northern Niagaran trend "the little North Slope," after the petroleum-rich Alaska North Slope.

With all this activity the price of state leases soared. Oil and gas lease auctions had generated, on average, about 11cents per acre leased by the State. The August, 1968 State lease auction, with Northern Michigan acreage mineral properties offered for lease, fetched a $2.01 average per acre. If oil explorers thought that auction ended the era of cheap leases in the north they only shook their head in disbelief when a November 1969 auction brought an average of $10.72 per acre leased. The price of leases soared, however, because of the great promise of discovery. The northern Niagaran Reef trend seemed a win-win situation for the state of Michigan and oil and gas explorationists. However, Northern Michigan petroleum development soon became an emotion-packed controversy.