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