In the early 1980s deeper strata exploration, volatile wellhead
prices, drilling permit processing backlogs and numerous new regulations
affecting oil and gas exploration were just a partial list of Michigan
oil and gas exploration and production issues. One of the main issues
was the adoption of new lease regulations by the State of Michigan, who
resumed State public oil and gas lease auctions, ending hiatus begun in
In 1980, Mason Michigan's Dart Oil & Gas and PPG
Industries drilled a deep well, the Edwards 1-36, in section 36 of
Reeder Township, Missaukee County. The project was allegedly looking for
potash, a commodity used in glassmaking. At 10,450 feet the well
discovered natural gas and opened the Michigan Basin deep Ordovician
geological formation to oil and gas exploration and development. The
project had its share of mystery. The deep gas discovery was first
rumored, then tested, then kept confidential and discussed in whispers
for several months between the completion of drilling in October, 1980
and the formal filing of geological data in April, 1981.
What made the project so important was that it demonstrated
once again that both oil and natural gas could exist independently of
one another at various depths in the same geographical area. In the same
region a Michigan Stray gas field had been developed at 1,790 feet in
1962, a Traverse gas field was developed in 1977 at 3,851, and a Dundee
field was found in 1978 at 3,166 feet. Thus the Edwards 1-36 find at
10,450 feet added 3,000 feet to the deepest recorded Michigan natural
gas zone and opened the way to petroleum production from the deeper
geological zones below older, shallower, oil and gas wells.
The news touched off a flurry of national publicity and local
leasing activity. At the time, the stock market was in the doldrums,
oil prices, which had been regulated by the federal government to
control inflation, had just been deregulated, and natural gas was
declared the environmentalist's fossil fuel of preference. The
possibility of striking three or four pools of natural gas in one area
seemed too good an investment to ignore. For the first time ever, there
was more money trying to get into the Michigan oil and gas business than
there were professionally planned projects to support the investment.
The deep hole play included 19 counties, most in the Central Michigan
Mother Nature proved not as generous as the wave of deep
explorers hoped. The sands of the Prairie du Chien failed to give up
natural gas in the quantities or with the ease at first thought. The
"producible pockets" of the deep zones proved smaller and less easily
detected than had been predicted. Many deep holes were drilled. Many of
those holes were dry, while operating costs for deep hole drilling were
high. At the same time, many operators were following the example of
Dart Oil & Gas by holding their knowledge of the deep zones to
themselves through "tite hole" (a term meaning not the density of the
rock but keeping technical knowledge within the company)
confidentiality. The end result was that knowledge about the nature of
the deep geology emerged somewhat like five blind men trying to describe
By 1985 the string of dry holes, combined with a slackening
of the national economy and oilfield economics, cooled but did not kill
"deep hole fever". While exciting and substantial, deep geological
exploration of Michigan never proved in the 1980s to be a gigantic
producer and remains a "sleeper" for future exploration and
As the deep hole play ran its course, the Michigan Basin
provided a new avenue for those petroleum explorers and investors in
search of cheaper, less risky, sustainable natural gas production:
Antrim Shale. The Antrim play came at the right time, with the Niagaran
pinnacle reef Trend development of the 1970s reaching maturity and the
deep play proving to be a "big boys" game requiring extraordinary
investment but without paying extraordinary returns.
Long recognized as a source of natural gas, the Antrim Shale
had not been of great interest because of two problems. First, the shale
tended to produce very steadily, but in very low volumes. Antrim Shale
was a long-term investment, not a get-rich-quick scheme. Second, the
natural gas found in the shale was usually associated with salt water.
Critics argued that water disposal is too expensive, "you have to pump
the ocean before you can get a favorable return." The same naysayers
dismissed Antrim Shale by saying "the economics aren't there" and "it's a
no-brainer, not the real oil business at all".
Despite these issues, modern Antrim play pioneer (and some
say godfather) Martin Lagina of Terra Energy Ltd., was optimistic.
Legend has it that young Marty Lagina, while working for Amoco years
before, wondered aloud why his employer would drill through a zone with
natural gas so abundant that it had to be held back because of a gas
kick,only to drill deeper and declare the project a dry hole in the
Niagaran Formation. Why not just take the easy find? Lagina spoke in
Jackson, Michigan on October 12, 1987 on the subject of " Michigan's
Other Gas Play Development of the Antrim Shale." He asserted that "more
natural gas will be produced from the Antrim Shale than from the Prairie
du Chien [a deeper zone] over the next 150 years." The claim seemed so
audacious that the Michigan Oil & Gas News used the quote
in the opening paragraph of the story covering the speech. It didn't
take 150 years. Through 2004, the Antrim Shale has produced 1.8 Trillion
cubic feet of natural gas while the deep zones have produced a
respectable but still second 800 Billion cubic feet.
With determination and ingenuity, Antrim Shale developers
whipped the brine disposal problem by developing a system to pump the
brine down the hole to deeper zones. Simultaneous with those technical
advances was a new emphasis on natural gas for generation of
electricity. In particular the Midland Cogeneration Venture, a
conversion of the 90 percent completed but never made operational
Midland Nuclear Power Plant from nuclear fuel to natural gas, increased
the regional market for a low volume, long-term, supply of natural gas
exactly the kind of production that Antrim Shale delivered.
Because of Antrim Shale activity, the number of wells drilled
began to grow astronomically and natural gas output reached new highs.
In 1989 annual Michigan natural gas output smashed previous Michigan
records. New names like, F.P.I Antrim One, Force Antrim Development,
H.R.F. Exploration and Production, Howard Energy, Jordan Exploration,
Mercury Exploration, Quicksilver Resources, Muzyl Petroleum Corp.,
Partnership One, Paxton Resources, SRW, Inc. and Ward Lake Energy
appeared as operators of record, along with older guard companies such
as Fruehauf Production Company, Muskegon Development, Trendwell Energy,
Wolverine Gas and Oil all explored for, found, and sold this new supply
of natural gas.
Other Michigan Discoveries and Developments in the 1980s
Mt. Pleasant's independent explorer/producer, K. P. Wood,
consulting with geologist Earl Majeske, made a multi-zone field
discovery in 1980 and 1981 in Williams Township of Bay County, causing
another buzz of a more conventional nature than the exotic deep play.
The Williams Berea Field 2,403 feet ended up with 86 wells drilled
ultimately, while its Dundee pool brought 9 wells, all with gratifying
In southern Michigan, Jackson County's Hanover Township was
the site of a new 1983 Trenton-Black River discovery, causing a new
exploration stir in that region in the geological zone that had made the
Albion-Pulaski-Scipio Trend so spectacular almost two decades before.
New technologies enabled explorationists to examine smaller productive
"lens" in the Black River zone and, for a brief period, southern
Michigan had a new lease on oil and gas exploration.
Important as these developments were, it was Antrim Shale
that spurred the major activity of the 1980s and Antrim Shale continued
to lead the way in the 1990s. Significantly while natural gas production
soared crude oil production stagnated and then declined. Michigan
drillers were finding great quantities of natural gas but no significant
fields of crude oil to replace older, played out, fields.