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The 1990s The Continuing Strength of Antrim Shale

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 oil".

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.