Antrim Shale development reached a crescendo in the 1990s, which saw
Michigan reach new natural gas production highs. In the early 1970s,
Michigan produced about three percent of the natural gas the state used.
By the end of the 1990s, more than 25 percent of Michigan's natural gas
usage was supplied from the state's own natural gas fields. In the same
time frame, crude oil production continued to decline.
There were no startling discoveries of new oil or gas
reserves or fields in new geographical of geological areas during the
1990s but drilling continued with rewarding result in every productive
geological zone and in every geographical area of historic petroleum
production in the state.
Success with horizontal drilling was heralded as the
beginning of a new age of production when Traverse City's Cronus
Exploration Company, led by Antrim pioneer Martin Lagina, found virgin
pressure in the Tow well in Montcalm County's Crystal Field well less
than 100 feet out from true vertical. Horizontal drilling technology
development was hampered in Michigan by low crude oil prices but the
technology remains viable as a source for what Western Michigan
University Geology Department's William Harrison II calls "overlooked
Crude oil and natural gas prices tanked in the 1990s,
causing the worst depression in the industry in four decades. The decade
opened with 1990 showing a high posted crude oil price of $39 and a low
of $15.50 for an average of $21.34 per barrel. In1998, the highest
Michigan crude oil price was $15.50 per barrel and the low was $7.75 per
barrel for a 1998 average of $11.66 per barrel. 1999 was not much
better with a high of $23.50 per barrel, a low of $8.50 and average for
the year of $16.16. Natural gas average prices per Mcf (thousand cubic
feet) opened the 1990s with $1.69 per Mcf in 1990 and closed the decade
$1.67 per Mcf in 1999. In many cases it actually cost more to pump oil
to the surface than operators obtained from 1990s prices. Oil wells,
however, cannot be turned on and turned off like a water spigot.
Operators pumped at a loss, unless they decided enough was enough and
elected to cap the well, permanently ending production.
The 1990s saw Michigan produce128.050 million barrels of oil
and 2.298 Trillion cubic feet of natural gas. 7,994 holes were drilled
in the search for oil and natural gas, resulting in 225 oil wells, 6,160
natural gas wells (overwhelmingly Antrim Shale wells), 1179 dry holes
and 430 facility wells.