The 1940's

The transition from the 1930s to the 1940s marked an ending of the "Wild West" era of oil and gas exploration and a beginning of new period for oil and gas exploration and production in Michigan. World War II energy needs both stimulated production and led to temporary oversupplies of oil while at the same time straining the tools used to deliver oil to their utmost. Labor problems occurred as rig builders struck for a $2 per day increase from the prevailing day rate of $10 and $8 per day. This strike echoed one in 1937 when riggers making five dollars a day walked out for more money and the $8 to $10 a day rate was established. Twelve hour tours (shifts) for driller and toolpusher were the standard but the idea of shorter shifts was being discussed and eventually the eight hour tour for both cable and rotary rigs became standard.

It was an era of multiple pay zones, with oil and gas produced from several geological zone in the same geographical area. It was also an age that was to see drillers begin to look both very deep and very shallow to find Michigan oil and gas. It was also an era which saw the emergence of a number of Michigan oilpatch families who continue to search today for Michigan petroleum. For those hoping to discover major new fields, however, the decade was a quiet one. Although many fields were opened, the giants remained slumbering.

Opening the decade, Otsego County, with a modest but significant discovery of natural gas in the shallow (less than 1,500 feet) Antrim formation at Section 7 of Bagley Township, put the county into the Michigan petroleum producing ranks and opened what was later to be one of Michigan's most active, and controversial, oil and gas producing counties.

The Reed City Field, discovered and developed by Bay City's Alvin C. Weber (who already had successfully wildcatted in West Branch), was the biggest single field strike of the decade. The Osceola and Lake County field stretched across about 5,300 acres and has produced more than 49 million barrels of oil from the Traverse, Dundee, Reed City, Detroit River and Richfield formations and over 29 billion cubic feet of natural gas from the Stray, Dundee and Detroit River formations. The field produced more oil and gas from multiple pay zones in a single geographical area than any other area in Michigan, and was an important example of how Michigan fields often produce from more than one geological formation.

The Cedar Field of Osceola County was found in 1943 by Ohio Oil Company. Ohio Oil partnered with Sun Oil Company to drill in the field. It would produce 1.1 million barrels of oil and 1.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas from the three formations: the Stray at 1,500 feet; the Dundee at 3,800 feet; and the Richfield at 5,000 feet. That same year, the Union-Ohio-Atha partnership found Osceola County's Rose Lake Field, good ultimately for 1.8 million barrels of oil from 18 wells.

The Boomer Field was discovered by H.L. Wadsworth in 1944. Straddling Montcalm and Ionia counties, the Boomer Field produced about two million barrels of oil from the Traverse formation at about 2,700 feet. The 1948 Eden Field in Mason County produced about three million barrels of oil from four pay zones between 1,700 and 2,400 feet. Superior Oil Company was principal operator in the field, with Miller Brothers and Harold McClure, Jr. also active in the same field.

The Coldwater Field in Isabella County became a hotbed of activity following the August, 1944 discovery by Sohio Petroleum Company. It was drilled on the basis of core drilling geological support. The Coldwater Field was "a sweetheart", according to Sohio's Michigan Manager, geologist William H. Strickler, whose son William J. Strickler and grandson William D. Strickler continue the family tradition of exploring for oil as consulting petroleum geologists in Mt. Pleasant. On 40 acre tracts, 80 wells were completed in the Coldwater Field to 3.600-3,700 feet in the Dundee Formation. The field would produce more than 22 million barrels of oil (an outstanding retrieval rate of over 6,800 barrels per acre) and 6.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas from 3,200 acres.

The Deep River Field in Arenac County, also in the Dundee formation, was a colossal 1944 oil field discovery which would ultimately produce more than 27,281,203 barrels of oil and hold the all-time record to date of 25,200 barrels of oil per acre recovery.

In 1948 the Paris Field of Mecosta County was discovered by John (Tim) Thompson with the help of Mt. Pleasant geologist William F. Brown and ultimately produced more than 1.2 million barrels of oil from 12 wells.

One of the biggest developments of the 1940-1949 era was the deepening of the Kawkawlin Field of Bay County's Bateson well by Gulf Oil Company to a depth of 10,477 feet for a record Michigan drilling depth that would not be broken until the 1960s. A blowout at 7,776 feet caused a fire that engulfed and destroyed Parker Drilling's rotary rig. The hole was saved and sidetracked for deepening. With the deeper zones dry, Gulf completed the well at 7,800 feet and completed it as a Salina zone natural gas well rated at the time for about six million cubic feet of natural gas per day. Gulf drilled two more deep holes in the area, both dry, and eventually the first hole was abandoned but Michigan oil and gas "deep hole" fever had had its first outbreak.

Finishing out the 1940s, just in time for the holidays in 1949, the decade ended with the Isabella Township, Isabella County Dundee formation reservoir discovery by Mt. Pleasant's Stuart "Shorty" Merrill (the second, his father having run casing crews in the 1930s). The new pool was in the boundaries of his field discovery well of 1948. Merrill, Chartiers and Roosevelt Refineries would drill 20 wells in the area during the next year, which would ultimately produce more than 850,000 barrels of oil.

The 1940s saw 8,674 wells drilled, resulting in 3,396 oil wells, 546 natural gas wells, 4,289 dry holes and 443 facility wells, bringing state all-time wells drilled total to 15,968 holes drilled. The period accounted for 122 oil discoveries and 67 natural gas strikes. The 1940s also saw 119.23 million barrels of oil and 107.73 billion cubic feet of natural gas produced. Total Michigan output was 425.65 million barrels of oil and 189.87 billion cubic feet of natural gas by the end of the 1940s.