History of Michigan's Oil and Natural Gas Industry

This history of Michigan's oil and natural gas industry was written by Jack R. Westbrook, retired managing editor of the Michigan Oil & Gas News magazine.


Michigan's state motto reads "If you seek a pleasant peninsula look around you". In the Lower Peninsula that motto might well read "If you seek an abundance of oil and gas look beneath you". Michigan has an abundance of oil and natural gas located under its landscape. That abundance can be measured in many ways. One is output.

  • Since 1925 more than 50,000 oil or natural gas wells have been drilled in Michigan.
  • Wells in 64 Michigan counties have cumulatively pumped 1.248 billion barrels of oil and 6.591 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
  • In 2004 crude oil accounted for 20 percent of Michigan's principal mineral production while natural gas accounted for 29 percent, together amounting to almost half of Michigan's mineral resources.
  • Michigan's geology provides the largest natural gas storage capacity of any state, with 47 percent of the U.S population and more than half of the nation's manufacturing capacity within a 500 mile radius of Detroit.
  • The productive capacity of the Michigan natural gas industry has been estimated at 6 to 8 trillion cubic feet over the next 20 to 30 years.

Another way to measure Michigan's abundance of oil and natural gas is its economic impact.

  • In 2004 the industry provided jobs to more than 8,000 Michiganians.
  • In 2004 the industry paid 14,000 private mineral owners more than $174 million.
  • In 2004 the industry paid about $40 million in state taxes and other fees.
  • Overall the Michigan oil and natural gas industry was responsible for about $2 billion in economic activity in 2004.

Whether measured by output or economic impact, for over eighty years the Michigan oil and natural gas industry has played an important role in the state. This publication is a history of that industry with an emphasis on the people who have made the industry possible. Unlike timber or surface water, oil and natural gas lies hidden, deep underground. The resource has to be first found and then removed from the earth. This history focuses primarily on the people who do that important task and make possible an American way of life that for over a century has largely been based on the availability of fossil fuel.

Michigan Geology

A geologist would describe the Michigan geological basin as the bowl-shaped remains of an ancient tropical sea. The ancient sea bed is layered with millions of years of younger sedimentary rock. This bowl-shaped assemblage of rock and soils extends east beyond Niagara Falls, west beyond Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, north to the edge of Michigan's Upper Peninsula where it meets with the volcanic rock of the Lake Superior Basin and south to just beyond the Michigan-Ohio border. Strata of rock within the basin are labeled by their geological age and geological formations layered within the geological age groups.

Formations in a geological basin are also often referred to by the location where they "outcrop," that is reach the earth's surface. In the Michigan Basin, some formation names, like the Detroit River formation, are obvious. Others are more obscure. The Salina Niagaran formation is named for the Niagara River and the deep Prairie du Chien for Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.

The rock under the earth varies in density. Some of the layers are quite porous, allowing liquids or gases to move through them, while others are quite dense, forming natural barriers to the movement of liquids or gases. Within the more porous layers are deposits of oil and natural gas, called reservoirs, often accompanied by salt, brine, or fresh water. These reservoirs are contained by denser, nonporous rock.

The mitten of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan sits almost in the center of this bowl-shaped basin, with the deepest part believed to be in the neighborhood of St. Louis and Alma (St. Louis being exactly in the center of the Lower Peninsula). There drillers must sink well bores more than 17,000 feet to reach the volcanic rock of the Lake Superior Basin which you can get out of your car and look up at in the Upper Peninsula.

The lack of sedimentary rock in the Upper Peninsula makes it unlikely that oil and natural gas in commercial quantities exist there. Despite the odds, fourteen holes have been drilled in the "U.P." but none has been found in commercial quantities.

That's the geologist's version. For lay folk, here is another way to picture Michigan's geology. Imagine a bowl of raisin bran, with the raisins representing the porous rock containing oil and natural gas. Some of the raisins are bigger while some are smaller. The bran symbolizes the denser rock that keeps the oil and natural gas within the raisins. There is a lot more bran than raisins. Now, imagine several such bowls of raisin bran, each bowl a little smaller than the one underneath it, stacked together one inside the other like your mixing bowls at home. Picture the whole group of bowls scraped and layered by glacial deposits then covered with a mitten-shaped piece of graph paper. Finally, take a jeweler's drill and try to hit a raisin. A petroleum landman, hearing this analogy, once quipped "And in Michigan we're blessed with two scoops of raisins!"

For more than fourteen decades, oilfolk have looked for the raisins in the Michigan Geological Basin in a quest to find, originally, lighting fuel and later, transportation fuel.

The Michigan Geological Basin

Cradle of the Global Oil Industry

In 1851, when Henry and Charles Tripp came to the area in Ontario roughly sixty miles northeast of Detroit they had heard of the region's "gum beds." Although the Tripps could not know it, the gum beds were part of the Michigan Basin, where the Dundee formation outcrops in what is today Oil Springs, Ontario. If Michigan could borrow twenty miles of Canada, it could lay claim to being the cradle of the worldwide oil industry.

The Tripps originally hoped to make a fortune out of what others considered useless by waterproofing ship hulls with the oily goo. The Tripp brothers, however, were inquisitive and began to experiment with what other uses the goo might have. After a year or so, they applied for a manufacturing charter to make something very different; which they called "auphill."

The Tripp's distilled the plastic like gunk they gathered and dug from the ground (and incidentally recovering fluids to be used for lighting) into a paving product. Their newly formed International Mining and Manufacturing Company received Honorable Mention at the 1855 Universal Exhibition in Paris for their product: asphalt. Theirs was the first commercial use for petroleum and suddenly the worthless gum beds had great value. The Tripps ingenuity proved their undoing. As land values near the gum beds increased dramatically the undercapitalized Tripp Brothers, already hampered by the lack of a railroad on which to ship their products, fell on hard times. Henry just drifted away, leaving Charles with the land and a handful of bills. By 1856 he began to sell the company's land holdings in the "gum beds".

Tripp sold the west gum bed and a great deal of his other property to a carriage and railway car maker named James Miller Williams. Williams had his eye on a new market: illumination fuel. As the availability of whale oil, which was then the most frequently used source of fuel for illumination, declined, Williams saw a mass market for a new fuel. In 1854 a Nova Scotian named Abraham Gesner had developed such a fuel, which he named kerosene, which could be made economically from oil. Although the surface soil near Oil Springs had oil in it, Williams was impatient with the time and labor involved chopping and boiling the plastic-like soil in order to release the oil needed to make illuminating fuel. He reasoned that the source of the goo must be somewhere below the surface. So, instead of chopping and boiling surface soil, in 1858 he tried something new and revolutionary; he ordered workers to dig into the west gum bed, hoping to find a more fluid form of lighting fuel under ground.

Fourteen feet down, the bottom of the hole filled with free-flowing oil. Soon Williams was hand-pumping 50 barrels a day from the well. Quickly he devised a refinery to distill illumination fluids from the oil. The well and the refinery were the world's first commercial developments of underground oil deposits. Briefly Williams and his associates had the field mostly themselves.

Williams soon added drilling to his digging. One well was dug 46 feet to the bedrock. He then drilled 100 feet deeper to produce about 60 barrels a day. With five wells operating producing 600 to 800 gallons of oil per day (the concept of a regular measure of 42 gallons as a standard "barrel" was not to be implemented until 1862) Williams was the boss of the first oil field in the world by the end of 1860 and had produced between 200,000 and 400,000 gallons of oil.

Williams soon had competitors. By 1860, a full-fledged boom began. The area attracted people from every part of the United States and Canada. The newcomers all wanted oil to make kerosene, which as becoming a popular illumination fuel. Some came with cash and equipment. Others came with little more than a shovel. Like the California gold rush a dozen years before, the world's first oil field a few miles from the Detroit River attracted water drillers, farmhands, teamsters, blacksmiths, "hangers-on", highbinders, and confidence men. By late 1861 more than 400 wells were active in the field of which 32 had been drilled.

One shoestring operator who arrived in the wave of fortune hunters was Hugh Nixon Shaw. A man of about 50, Shaw was squeezed out of a partnership in experimental drilling about nine miles to the north and came to the first oilfield area with about $50 in his pocket. Shaw began digging in July of 1861. His cash was gone when he reached rock about 50 feet down. Like several other drillers Shaw began to pound their way through the rock with spring pole drilling rigs powered by three or four men on a treadle. A spring pole drilling rig was an ash pole from a tree trunk six to eight inches thick placed parallel to the ground with a heavy drilling bit suspended from one end of the pole by a chain. As operators threw their weight forward, the treadle yanked the end of the pole downward and allowed the drilling bit to strike the rock at the bottom of the well hole.

Raising some credit, Shaw began drilling. After drilling for more than six months to a depth of 157 feet, Shaw's credit was exhausted and he told locals he would give it one more day before giving up on the hole, which was already drilled deeper than any other producing well. The next morning, January 16, 1862, Shaw went back to drilling and one foot later heard a loud crack. A few minutes later, heavy thick oil shot over the tree tops, wrecking his drilling rig and blackening the ground.

The world's first gusher flowed out of control for three weeks, daily spewing 2,000 barrels of oil into the air. Eventually, by stuffing flax-filled bags down the three inch wellbore and then creating a column of diminishing-sized pipe that eventually measured over twenty feet high, the well was brought under control. By then the oil on the ground measured between three and four inches deep. Others drilled as close as they could get to Shaw's well and the area produced rivers of oil.

The field Shaw discovered was remote. Because of the costs of hauling oil through logs, boulders, clinging mud and bottomless potholes, oil sold for $1 per barrel at the well and $10 per barrel at the railway a dozen miles away, giving rise to the world's first "post-production costs".

While all of this activity was occurring within the Michigan Basin, in August 1859 Colonel Edwin L. Drake drilled the United States' first commercial well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, striking oil at 69 feet. The Drake well lays claim to being the first commercial oil well drilled, in contrast to the wells being dug in Oil Springs, but Colonel Drake was not very far ahead of James Williams. Oilfolk from the Oil Springs field made their way to the U.S. and all parts of the world to lend their expertise to the burgeoning oil fields.

Williams, Drake, and others like them filled an important need in the mid 19th century. The world was beginning its love affair with "rock oil", As industrialization progressed, inventors found new uses for the stuff beyond its traditional inclusion in patent medicine (which didn't help) and as pitch for ship hulls (which had a tendency to catch fire, thus limiting its usefulness). Some people had the idea that oil was a newfound cleverness of the nineteenth century. This poem (quoted from "Sketches in Crude" a book edited by John J. McLauren in 1896 at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) called Hooray for Petroleum tried to squelch that sentiment:

Don't make the mistake that Petroleum

Like the kodak, the bike, or linoleum

Is something decidedly new;

Whereas it was known in the Garden

When Eve, fig-leafed Dolly Varden,

Gave Adam the apple to chew.

Nor deem it a human invention,

By reason of newspaper mention

Just lately commanding attention,

Because it is Nature's own brew.


Repeatedly named in the Bible,

Let none its antiquity libel

Or seek to explain it away.

It garnished Methuselah's table,

Was used by the builders of Babel

And pilgrims from distant Cathay;

When Pharaoh and Moses were chummy

It help'd preserve many a mummy,

Still dreadfully life-like and gummy

In Egypt's stone tombs from decay!


At Baku Jove's thunderbolts fir'd it,

Devout Zaroaster admir'd it

As deity symbol'd in flame;

Parsees from the realms of Darius,

Unwearedly earnest and pious,

Adoring and worshiping came.

It cur'd Noah's Ham of trichina,

Greas'd babies and pigtails in China

Heal'd Arabs from far-off Medina -

The blind, the halt and the lame!


Herodotus saw it at Zante,

It blazed in the visions of Dante

And pyres of supine Hindostan:

The tropics and zone have rich fountains,

It bubbles 'mid snow-covered mountains

And flows in the pits of Japan.

Confin'd to no country or nation,

A blessing of God's whole creation

For light, heat and prime lubrication

All hail this grand gift to man!

By the end of 1862 McLauren's "grand gift to man" was peaking at Oil Springs. The quest for petroleum in southwestern Ontario saw 1,000 wells producing 12,000 forty-two gallon barrels of oil a day. Teamsters were hauling 500 loads a day to the railway while the field's ten refineries worked feverishly. Less than a month later, the Oil Springs boom faltered as production overtook the market's demand for oil. Crude oil prices tumbled. This coincided with the invasion of salt water into some of the field's greatest producers, choking off the oil within a few weeks. The oilfield phenomenon of having a well "go to water" joined the ranks of Oil Springs' contribution to worldwide oilpatch "firsts".

Speculation abounded that drilling deeper was the answer to the field's recovery but deep tests failed. Instead, the answer to recovery was just the opposite. Smaller, less prolific wells did not experience the saltwater-choked deaths of their more spectacular gusher cousins. It was the expansion and nurturing of shallower wells that brought about an eventual recovery.

By 1865 the price of crude oil had climbed back to $4.00 a barrel and by the end of the year crude oil was fetching $11.00 a barrel. Kerosene was more and more replacing whale oil as the fuel of choice for illumination, and illuminating fuel was very big business. Oil Springs shallow wells were again booming. The boom extending into 1866, fueled by a huge oil discovery a few miles north of Oil Springs at Petrolia, Ontario, where wells, with a promise of production longevity, were produced 200 to 400 barrels a day.

However, when the Pennsylvania field revived in the aftermath of the Civil War those fields, and other U.S. fields that followed, more than met the needs of the American petroleum market. Indeed the efficiencies of the American manufacturers, and in particular John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil which caused the prices of refined petroleum to fall from over 30 cents a gallon in 1869 to 10 cents by 1874 and to 5.9 cents by 1897, led Canada to adopt protective tariffs to fend off lower priced U.S. petroleum products.

For a time Oil Springs was all but abandoned. Several attempts to find a new production "wrinkle" were tried at Oil Springs to no avail until J. H. Fairbanks, who had been active at Oil Springs and Petrolia since 1860, introduced the "jerker rod system." Using a centrally located steam engine and ash "jerker" rods that could run great distances, Fairbanks could pump 100 or more wells from a single steam engine. Fairbanks invention stabilized the oil business around Oil Springs and Petrolia. Fairbanks invention included one Victorian nicety that some today might wish reinstated; a timer that turned off the jerker rods on the day of rest, Sunday. After 145 years, the Fairbanks family still operates in the Oil Springs field, owning the longest lived oil company in the world.

Michigan Oil and Natural Gas Exploration Before 1925

With the discoveries in Ontario at Oil Springs and Petrolia, it is not surprising that people of the time speculated about finding oil in nearby Michigan. According to Michigan Geological Survey Division geologists Garland D. Ells and Robert Ives " as early as 1860 it was recognized that oil and gas bearing rocks could be in Michigan." Former regional geologist for Sun Oil Company George D. "Josh" Lindberg said "The discovery of the Oil Springs Field, a few miles east of Port Huron, raised hope in 1869 that oil could be found in Michigan. Several wells were drilled in the Port Huron area shortly thereafter, with small amounts of oil and gas discovered." Between 1886 and 1898 additional drilling again discovered a number of small yield oil wells in the Port Huron area. Thousands of St. Clair County acres were leased by speculators from Chicago, Toledo, Milwaukee and places further away. But little oil was found and as a result, Michigan oil explorers lost interest in the area for two decades.

Beginning in 1886, when C.A. Baily brought in three Dundee producers at about 550 to 575 feet near Port Huron, each producing two or three barrels a day, there was a small amount of oil production in the Port Huron area. By 1910 the Port Huron Field had twenty-one wells producing less than 10 barrels a day each. The exact total production volume is not known. The Port Huron Field, located in Section 32-T6N-R17E, Port Huron Township, St. Clair County, was abandoned in 1921.

Later Geological Survey reports, printed sometime between 1914 and 1921 make reference to a few other wells in St. Clair County. Twenty-two St. Clair county wells were "grouped" in the report which listed their combined production of six to seven barrels per day. Another 21 wells drilled by G.B. Stock were bunched as having less than 10 barrels a day oil production cumulatively. Combined with the other wells that are mentioned in Geological Survey Reports, it appears that 80 oil wells were drilled in Michigan before 1925. Most of these wells were in St. Clair County, however at least one well was drilled on the western side of the state.

Interpreting the reports, however, can be quite difficult. In 1872, for example, the Mason Lumber Co. of Muskegon reported a "slight flow" of oil at 1,200 feet in a well it was drilling. Oil, however, was not the well's objective. The Company was interested in brine, which made the flow of oil a curse rather than a blessing since the presence of oil could ruin a brine well. The Company eventually abandoned the well after drilling to 2,627 feet without finding useful quantities of brine. The "slight flow" of oil was never reported in the local papers and only appears as a footnote in the State Geological Reports of 1901 and 1911.

If the Mason Company found oil a nuisance, others went looking for it. A well documented example of early oil drilling comes from Isabella County. In 1912, W. F. Bram of Pennsylvania, arrived in Mt. Pleasant and began to lease land for an attempt to find oil. Bram began drilling in March 1913 on the Riley farm south of Mt. Pleasant. The operation was the talk of the town and the local newspaper started a column headed "Oil and Gas Notes" giving a foot-by-foot report on the drilling. At ninety feet the well struck good drinking water. In April, beginning at 800 feet, drilling encountered slate, then salt, limestone and shale. In May, drilling at around 2,740 feet the well showed some oil and gas and excitement mounted. In July drilling reached 3,680 feet and struck water. This precluded any possibility of getting oil from this well. Braum said he was not discouraged and planned to drill another well, but he departed a few weeks later for West Virginia, never to return.

In 1911 Michigan's first commercial natural gas well began production. The tabulation of "Reported Discoveries of Gas in Michigan" in the Geological Survey Bulletins is longer than the oil well list and included 116 wells. These were mostly located in ­southeastern Michigan, including Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne counties as well as in Manistee County in western Michigan. Many of the early natural gas discoveries were most likely made not as a result of a search for oil or natural gas but were instead test wells drilled for salt or for fresh water. Strong flows of gas from water wells are not unusual in southeastern Michigan and sometimes the shallower rims of the basin can still provide a surprise. In the mid 1980s holes drilled to provide footings for a highway overpass in St. Clair County "blew out" with natural gas. The flow of gas from these early wells was usually quite small. The largest volume of natural gas was in St. Clair County were wells supplied "several families" in one case, "pumps, drills and two houses" in another case and "one house" in a number of instances.

Commercial Quantities of Oil First Discovered in 1925

Geologists suspected in the first years of the twentieth century that there was enough oil underneath Saginaw to make oil wells profitable. Michigan's State Geologist Dr. A.C. Lane in the early 1900s observed "uplift and folding" in Michigan geology between Bay City and Saginaw, which he believed indicated that oil was likely present. Dr. A.C. Smith, State Geologist, in the 1920s said "Most of the evidence indicating favorable structure conditions for the occurrence of oil and gas wells in the ( Saginaw) region was derived from numerous comparatively shallow salt wells drilled along the Saginaw River, drawing brine from the upper Marshall Sandstone …. Apparently this fold will run slightly west of north through Saginaw near the Bristol Street Bridge."

In 1912 and 1913 a group of local capitalists and businessmen formed the Saginaw Valley Development Company to prospect for oil. During the group's second attempt, a hole near the geographical center of the city was treated with the downhole discharge of 100 quarts of nitroglycerine. The well "erupted with a spout of oil forty feet high from the mouth of the well and stood solid for four or five minutes." This spurt was followed a few minutes later by a second, higher column of oil that lasted about two minutes and also included natural gas. The excitement in Saginaw was spontaneous," Predictions were freely expressed that a new era of prosperity was opening for the Valley.

In a short time, outside speculators arrived to organize companies and secure oil leases. The local demand for stock in the Saginaw Valley Development Co. was overwhelming but none was offered, The Company adopted policy of "not affecting its operating organization until the quantity of oil existing in this locality was definitely determined." The company's cautious attitude proved well-founded. The discovery well, along with eight others nearby, did not pan out commercially. Ultimately Mills says the Saginaw Valley Development Company ceased operations, sold its equipment and the efforts "determined without reasonable doubt that oil was a myth in this locality" Fortunately there were those willing to try again.

One person willing to look again was James C. Graves, a chemist by education, who worked for the Dow Chemical Company beginning in 1900. Graves closely followed the progress of Dow's brine wells. Graves left Dow to join the Saginaw Chemical Company. He became acquainted with many Saginaw businessmen, some of whom made him president of the Saginaw Prospecting Company, formed in 1925 to revive the Saginaw area oil search. A test well was started July 25, 1925 on city-owned property known as Deindorfer Woods on the north side of Weiss Street.

On August 29, 1925, the Saginaw News reported the well's success with a banner headline. The well produced an average of 23 barrels of oil per day for a few days, and averaged 17 barrels a day for the first 30 days. Company records show production from that Saginaw Field discovery well was 13 barrels of crude oil per day after 90 days, eight after one year and an average of six barrels per day the second year.

These were not spectacular production rates but it was enough oil to be sold commercially. Michigan had arrived as a real oil and gas producing state.

Others soon came to try their luck. Among those arriving in Michigan to search for oil and gas were Clyde B. and George Miller, the Michigan Oil patch's original Miller brothers and founders of what would become a well known name in Michigan. Clyde's sons C. John Miller, Clyde E. "Gene" Miller and H. Jack Miller (as well as John's son Michael), would grow up to each serve as chief elected officer of the Michigan Oil And Gas Association in 1966-67, 1976-77, 1988-89 and 2000-01 respectively. C. John Miller was the second Michigan oilman to serve as President of the national Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA).

Muskegon Discovery Puts Michigan Solidly on the Oil Map

Following the 1925 discovery of oil in commercial quantities at the Saginaw Field, oil explorers in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, as well as local prospectors, became convinced that Michigan was the place to be for oil exploration. The Saginaw Field wells were commercial, but not spectacular, averaging 20-40 barrels per day. They were not particularly long-lived, as rapidly ­declining production rates would show over the last half of the 1920s. Nonetheless, out of state individuals and companies began to take oil leases in the state beyond the Saginaw area and local development companies were developed across the length and breadth of the state.

A host of test wells were drilled from 1925 to 1927, with minimal results. Michigan's days as an oil producing state might well have been numbered if not for the Muskegon Field. Oil and gas shows had been reported sporadically in Western Michigan wells drilled for salt and other purposes since the turn of the twentieth century. Muskegon County was considered prime petroleum prospecting territory. Intrigued by the oil and gas industry, brothers-in-law Charles Myler, an accountant, and Stanley Daniloff, a tailor, formed an oil company, Muskegon Oil Corporation (today Muskegon Development Company), raised capital, and drilled their first well. That well, drilled in July of 1926 reported light oil shows and was encouraging enough for investors to OK a second try.

A Standard Oil of ­ Indiana subsidiary, Dixie Oil Company, was also active in the Muskegon area adjacent to Muskegon Oil Company lease holdings. Dixie Oil Company geologist Hugh D. Crider was anxious for a proven well in the area to justify the leases his company had taken out. Crider advised Myler-Daniloff and their investors to drill at a location four miles north of Muskegon (the Reeths 1 well, NW NW Section 9-T10N-R16W, Muskegon Township, Muskegon County) near the town of North Muskegon in an area already subdivided for industrial and residential use.

On December 8, 1927, the Reeths 1 encountered natural gas in the Traverse at 1,640 feet. Drilling further, at 1,700 feet oil was encountered and started to flow. The flow reached a rate of 330 per barrels per day, and then settled in at about 50 barrels of oil per day in later weeks.

The Muskegon discovery, blessed with a prime location near a center with a shipping infrastructure by land and water, brought big companies and independents from across the state and nation. The "boom" intensified when Dixie successfully drilled a second well on 200 acres it had acquired in its arrangement with Muskegon Oil and Muskegon Oil started another well. Expanding its holdings to more than 50,000 acres as fast as leases could be written, Muskegon Oil Corporation organized Muskegon Development Company with three subsidiaries (Citizens Petroleum, Lakeshore Petroleum and Juliet-Morris Development Company).

By mid-February, 1928, Muskegon Development had two test wells drilling. Ten other companies, Dixie, J. S. Reed, Johnson Oil and Refining Company, Bower and O'Keefe, Bull Dog Oil and Gas, Citizens Petroleum, Mario-Caswell, Lakeshore Petroleum, Carter Hill and A.S. Cochran were either drilling test wells or moving in to drill.

Four months after the Muskegon Oil discovery, seven oil wells and two wells rated as natural gas wells were producing more than 1,000 barrels of oil per day, making the field the biggest in the state. Dixie Oil became the largest gatherer and purchaser of crude oil in the field, sending the oil across the state to the company's new refinery at Zilwaukee, near Saginaw. Muskegon Traction and Lighting, which was marketing manufactured gas to greater Muskegon, promptly tapped into the two ­natural gas wells making available more than one million ­cubic feet of natural gas a day.

Oil made Muskegon a boom town. The local newspaper, the Muskegon Chronicle, reported in November, 1928, an estimated 1,000 people were involved with some phase of the area's new oil industry. That publication reported that about 70 drilling rigs were active in the area, most operating 24 hours a day. It cost from $12,000 to $15,000 to drill a successful well, with dry holes averaging around $10,000 each. Days were long with most shifts lasting 12 hours, but workers' wages were good. Drillers received about $2,600 a year and tool dressers about $2,340 a year in a world where a new car cost $525, a house $7,333 and a loaf of bread 10 cents. The newspaper estimated that oil had led to an investment of about $2 million in the area, with another $1 million in the current drilling operations.

Drilling successes and increased competition, also led to a quick jump in the price of leases. A dollar an acre lease rental had been about par before the boom, but after the discovery of oil lease prices soon climbed to $5 an acre. In some cases leases cost $10 to $50 per acre, and one account of $2,500 per acre was rumored.

The Muskegon Field accounted for 347 well completions in 1929 resulting in 264 oil wells, 23 gas wells and 60 dry holes in the field's peak activity, shielding many a Muskegonite from the effects of the Great Depression that began with the October, 1929 stock market collapse. Oil production in the field peaked in 1929 with 3.1 million barrels of oil. Natural gas output peaked in March of 1929 at 428.8 million cubic feet.

Assistant Michigan Supervisor of Wells Robert B. Newcombe's 1932 report stated there had been 629 wells started or completed in the Muskegon Field with 439 completed resulting in 304 Dundee oil wells, 57 Upper Traverse oil wells, 14 Lower Traverse oil wells, 14 Lower Traverse natural gas wells, two Monroe natural gas wells and 64 dry holes. The development had covered about 3,170 acres, which on an estimated 629 dry and productive well completion basis would represent a well density of one well per 5.039 acres, closer in some places.

The final years of the 1920s saw western Michigan oil and gas discoveries and development in places other than the Muskegon Field. Muskegon Development and its three affiliates (Citizens, Lake Shore and Joliet) worked out a deal with Dixie Oil Company to core test 60,000 acres in Ottawa County and later the group core tested and deep drilled in Shelby, Hart, Weare, Pentwater and Benonia Townships of Oceana County.

Mt. Pleasant Field Proves that the Entire State is "Oil Hunting Country"

During the 1920s, nine more fields were discovered after the Saginaw and Muskegon fields. The largest and most important of these new fields was the Mt. Pleasant Field located on either side of the Isabella, Midland County line, largely in Chippewa and Greendale Townships. The Mt. Pleasant Field was critical in that it proved that oil discoveries in Saginaw and Muskegon counties were not Basin-flank flukes. Returning to the stacked bowls and raisin bran analogy, if the raisins containing oil are all found at the point where two bowls come together, leaving only bran in the center of the bowl, a basin flank anomaly or fluke has occurred. Saginaw and Muskegon are on the edge of a basin. Finding oil in the Mt. Pleasant Field was critical because it demonstrated the presence of oil raisins throughout the Michigan Geological Basin rather than just on the Basin's periphery.

A newspaper account printed in the Mt. Pleasant Times in January of 1930 tells how Fred Sias of Midland leased 10,000 acres of Midland County after checking oil shows found in Dow's #57 brine well in Section 7 of Greendale Township. Sias was quoted as having obtained samples of the oil and sending them for analysis to Imperial Refining Co. of Sarnia Ontario Canada. Sias said "scouts soon were swarming the area and Pure Oil Company acquired leases to 12,000 acres. Pure Oil was indeed acquiring leases. In 1927, Pure Oil Company started a well on the Laura Root farm in Section 18, Greendale Township of Midland County.

The Mt. Pleasant Times of February 27, 1928 reported the discovery of oil in the Pure Root #1 well under a headline reading "CLAIM BEST OIL STRIKE IN THE STATE". The story said that "the drill bit broke through into the oil sand at 3,554 feet", and reported that the strike involved "50 to 60 feet of oil sand." The story said that Pure at the time had about 80,000 acres under lease in the vicinity of the well and others had leased 25,000 acres. In point of fact the strike was the richest of the decade and the fourth largest in the history of the Michigan oilpatch. Eventually, 29 million barrels of oil would be pumped from the ground.

For the next several weeks Pure went about the task of getting the well ready for production, while continuing to drill in the area. Ultimately, the company would build their own drilling-housing-office complex just south of M-20 so workers would not have to deal with weather and dirt roads to get to the fields that grew up on the company's vast Central Michigan lease holding. Retail operations to serve those workers began nearby and led to establishment of the town of Oil City in Midland County. The name still appears today on Michigan highway maps long after the complex that started the settlement has gone.

The Mt. Pleasant newspaper noted May 29, 1928 that "Walter Russell and Fred Stilgenbauer helped Pure obtain pipeline right of way to Mt. Pleasant." Pure built a pipeline to the Mt. Pleasant railhead and on July 3, 1928 the firm started to sell oil to Imperial Refining, Sarnia, Ontario via rail shipment from Mt. Pleasant.

Several local Mt. Pleasant businessmen became directly involved in the oil industry. In addition to Russell and Stilgenbauer, Virgil McClintic, a Mt. Pleasant attorney, was retained by Pure early to check titles and handle other legal matters. McClintic was later directly involved in the discovery of a natural gas field west of Mt. Pleasant and starting Consumers Power Company (later NOMECO) in the natural gas business. Local butcher Dan Johnson quit selling meat to deal in oil leases. Mt. Pleasant became a boomtown where oilmen were very welcome. In 1929 the Mt. Pleasant Rotary Club hosted a welcome banquet with 40 oilmen as their guests. The city became known as the "Oil Capital of Michigan." The town flourished with new residents, new housing, new businesses and best of all, new money

Mt. Pleasant became a hub of Michigan petroleum activity, first as an accident of geology and later as a convenience of geography. The community lies close to the geographical center of the "mitten", thus located equal distance from anywhere in the Lower Peninsula. Primary oil and gas explorationists, petroleum supply and service companies, geologists (and later geophysicists), drilling contractors all headquartered in Mt. Pleasant.

Though later years have seen the intensity of field activity shift elsewhere in the state, Mt. Pleasant remains a viable center of petroleum industry activity with 98 business entities with Mt. Pleasant addresses listed as doing business with the industry in whole or in part in the 2004 edition of the Michigan Petroleum Directory.

The 1930s Production, Cooperation, and Regulation

While much of the nation and the majority of Michigan's residents suffered through the Great Depression of the 1930s, areas of oil and gas production faired considerably better. Automobiles still consumed great quantities of gasoline while many homes still need kerosene for lighting. Oil still made money, and many Michiganians enjoyed the benefits of an actively growing oilpatch. During the Depression years, oil and natural gas were discovered in twenty-three of Michigan's Lower Peninsula counties.

Michigan produced approximately 160,384,000 barrels of crude oil between 1929 and1941. With an average wellhead price of $1.04 per barrel this oil pumped $166,592,000 into the Michigan economy. Additionally, natural gas production in Michigan amounted to about 80.67 billion cubic feet at an average price of about a nickel per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) to put another $4,306,990 into the Michigan economy. All told, the wellhead value of Michigan oil and natural gas during the Depression years reached about $170,898,990, or $2.274 billion in 2005 dollars. The cumulative effect of payroll, income, and property taxes for not only the oil and gas exploration and production industry but also oilfield supplies and service companies partially compensated for the staggering economic losses created by the collapse in automobile sales.

Production in the 1930s

In the 1920s Michigan demonstrated that it had substantial reservoirs of oil and could become an oil producing state. With 65 oil and natural gas field discoveries between 1930 and 1939 Michigan began to realize that possibility. Norman X. Lyon, longtime editor of the Michigan Oil & Gas News magazine rightly called the decade, "the fabulous 1930s." Little wonder the decade was described as "fabulous" when the three most important discoveries are recalled.

The Porter Field, 1933

The Porter Field southeast of the Mt. Pleasant Field was discovered in 1933. It would prove to be the largest of the decade's discoveries. As early as 1931 wells were being drilled in Midland County's Porter Township. With only modest initial results and several dry holes, prospects of a major find seemed dim. However in 1933 the Otway 2 well came in as a huge gusher. Rated at 3,200 barrels a day, suddenly everyone wanted to drill in Porter Township. The field was dominated by Pure Oil Company (later to become Union Oil Company, now UNOCAL) but with 55 percent of the acreage held by independents, there was room for others to get into the action. Over 50 million barrels of oil have come from the field, the second most productive in the state.

The Porter Field also played an important role in early experimentation to increase oil flow. Because the porosity of oil bearing rock can vary, oil sometimes flows very easily out of the stone while other times the oil flows with great difficulty. Oil producers have developed a number of techniques to "stimulate" well production by increasing the porosity of the rock. One way to accomplish this is to pump acid into a well. This technique is particularly successful when it is used on limestone or similar rock that is easily dissolved by acid. On February 11, 1932 the world's first acidizing treatment to stimulate well production was accomplished on the Pure Oil Fox #1, Chippewa Township, Isabella County (in the Mt. Pleasant Field) . Legend has it that the acid was injected with a garden hose borrowed from a worker's home. Dowell, a major firm involved in oil well stimulation, was born.

The Crystal Field, 1935

Inspired by the 1933-discovered Edmore and Day Fields to the northwest, in the spring of 1935 J. W. Leonard, Jr. received the permit to drill the Otto and Goldie Durbin #1 in section 11-10N-5W, Crystal Township, Montcalm County. The hole was drilled by Leonard Drilling Company's James Leonard (Walter's older brother.) Pure, Gulf and several independents reportedly had acreage in the area and supposedly had whispering interests in the Durbin well site. But everyone seemed to want someone else to take the risk involved in drilling the first test well.

Four feet into the Dundee, at 3,197 feet, drilling stopped to allow tests to be made. Estimates placed the flow at 20 to 30 barrels of oil per day with some water. Testing went on for about a week, then the decision was made to drill deeper. Several experienced oilmen thought the decision was a "waste of time for a well that wasn't going to amount to much." On the morning of March 28, 1935, they were proved wrong.

After drilling a mere six inches deeper the well roared and cut loose with a seemingly unending gush of oil. Leonard's Durbin #1 well shot the cable tools drilling the well up the nearly 3,200 foot shaft with such force that it smashed the oil saver and control head. The gushing well was capped 23 hours later. The well was rated at an open flow production rate of 3,594 barrels per day. The entire state was producing 37,000 barrels per day, so the announcement that one well was producing 3,500 barrel a day brought folks arunnin' and launched one of Michigan's biggest "booms". Within a week 30 drilling locations were planned in the area. By June, the Crystal Field production had reached 290,000 barrels of crude oil for the month. In later years saw the Crystal development expanded to about 2,000 acres and saw 195 active wells in the Crystal Dundee and Traverse pools. Collectively they would produce more than 8 million barrels of crude oil.

The Crystal development was of such size that it ultimately brought new independent refineries to the state and the first oil pipeline to deliver Michigan production out of state (Sohio-Roosevelts 8-inch pipeline from Mt. Pleasant to Toledo, Ohio). Walter McClanahan's Midwest Refinery was one of the Crystal-born refineries, which would eventually be acquired by and merged with J. Walter Leonard, Jr.'s Leonard Refinery, to become TOTAL Refinery, sold to Diamond Shamrock and ultimately closed in the late 1990s.

Bloomingdale, 1938

The village of Bloomingdale, in Van Buren County, was established May 23, 1870 along the Kalamazoo and South Haven Railroad. It was originally a lumber center. After the trees had been cut it became an agriculture community. The town's first sixty-eight years were similar to dozens of small Michigan towns. All of that changed in ­August of 1938 when a Michigan independent oil and gas exploration and production company, Fisher-McCall, came to town to drill on the Wiggins farm near Bloomingdale.

Allegan County, just to the north of Bloomingdale, was drawing nationwide headlines in 1938 as drilling proliferated for Southwestern Michigan's shallow (1,000 to 1,500 feet) Traverse geological formation oil discoveries. In the midst of all this publicity, Fisher-McCall received their drilling permit for the Wiggins Estate #1 well the last week of July, 1938, with little fanfare. The project, however, soon made banner headlines that dwarfed past newspaper accounts. In the middle of August, the Michigan Oil & Gas News announced, in double headlines "BARREL A MINUTE WILDCATS OPEN TWO MORE TRAVERSE LIME FIELDS" speaking of oil field discoveries near Overisel ( Allegan County) and the Wiggins Bloomingdale discovery.

As had happened at the Crystal Field, the rush was on, but this time in a small town rather than open land. Leases were signed, drilling permits were obtained, ­drilling rig crews and sundry other oil folk moved in and life in Bloomingdale moved at a much faster pace then ever before.

The Bloomingdale field would ultimately see 437 wells drilled, 45 of them on 80 acres of town lots within the ­village limits of Bloomingdale, and would produce more than ten million barrels of oil. Practically any space not taken up by people and houses saw a drilling rig put down roots as people signed leases for mineral rights in their back yard and drillers put rigs as close as possible to each other. More than 11 percent of all wells ever drilled in Michigan, 5,400 wells out of a cumulative total of more than 50,000 statewide were drilled in Van Buren County and neighboring Allegan County between 1930 and 1939. Development was so rapid and ruthless in this field that both oilfolk and state regulators agreed on the need for legislation to rationalize and regularize drilling. The result was the fundamental legislation enacted in 1939 that still serves as the basis for the regulation of drilling activity in the state.

As with the Crystal Field, so much oil led to refineries being built. Two refineries were built at Bloomingdale, the Erie Refining Company and the Fort-Dalo Oil and Refining Company, both of which reached throughput levels in the 1,300-1,500 barrel range in their output peak. The refineries provided hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline per month to Kalamazoo district companies and fuel oil to distributors during the rationing period of World War II. They closed in the late 1940s.

Natural Gas in the 1930s

Early in the oil industry finding natural gas was considered at best a small side benefit to the real job of finding oil and at worst, something of a nuisance. In the 1930s however, major finds of gas changed industry attitudes.

The Big Rapids Pioneer newspaper, in a December 30, 1933 editorial headlined "Natural Gas Field Opened in 1933" and opened with the statement "A meteoritic rise from a position of total obscurity to the center of attention in Michigan's natural gas development, reviving visions of industrial advancement long since abandoned with the passing of the other natural resources (lumber), bids fair to claim the lions share of attention in Mecosta County story of progress for the year. Thrust into the spotlight by strikes of gas in Austin Township, established as probably the most important field in the state, Big Rapids and Mecosta County has sought to formulate plans for industrial recovery which will establish 1933 as the beginning of a new and prosperous era unlike any the community has hitherto experienced."

The March, 1933 discovery of natural gas in the Michigan Stray formation at 1,380 feet by the Taggart Brothers was the basis for the Pioneer's headline. The Taggart discovery occurred despite conventional wisdom that there was nothing worth discovering underneath Mecosta County. A number of unsuccessful holes had been drilled in the search for oil. According to local accounts, many companies and individuals had given up their Mecosta County oil and gas leases "feeling there was no such resource in the county." The conventional wisdom was wrong and the Taggart Brothers success led to a flurry of drilling, with the Austin Township Michigan Stray formation reservoir ultimately producing 6.2 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas from 127 wells across 3,970 acres. Eventually, Mecosta County would see more than 1,000 holes drilled in the search for oil and gas, resulting in 35 oil or gas fields, which collectively have produced over 10 million barrels of oil and more than 22 Bcf of natural gas.

The Six Lakes Field eventually became a cornerstone of Michigan's emerging as the nation's largest natural gas storehouse, boasting the most natural gas storage capacity of any state in the Union. In 1941 the played out site found new lease in life as a 13 Bcf capacity gas storage field . American Natural Resources (ANR), parent company of Michigan Consolidated Gas, was among the vanguard in Louisiana Gulf Coast offshore drilling. The firm built a huge natural gas pipeline to deliver gas from the Gulf Coast directly to the Six Lakes Field.

In 1935, at Howell in Livingston County a reservoir was discovered in the Salina-Niagaran Formation at Livingston County. The Howell Field would produce no oil but more than 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas before conversion to a natural gas storage field in 1962.

Industrial Cooperation: The Michigan Oil & Gas News and the Michigan Oil And Gas Association

With projects proposed and underway throughout the Michigan "oilpatch," oilfolk needed a way to keep up with the action. Local newspaper filled some of the information gap but local papers were, by their nature, not interested in the broader, statewide story. Moreover local reporters lacked real knowledge of the industry to help filter true happenings from the promoter's hype.

John Murphy, Jim Dunnigan, Lou Aaronson and Danny Miller, with the backing of financial associates, published the first issue of the Michigan Oil & Gas News on June 20, 1933. Besides a number of field stories, the front page of that first issue (in a broadsheet newspaper format) carried a message from the owners saying "We want to give you a service that you need; in return we expect but moderate compensation and your enthusiastic support. An honest living and the feeling we have served, and well, are all the rewards we seek,"

Dunnigan, Aaronson, and Miller had been college buddies at what is today Detroit's Wayne State University. Miller's father encouraged them to start an oil reporting paper. Murphy was a Mt. Pleasant local whose early thoughts and training were about a career teaching or in the priesthood. Lindy Davis joined the publication in the mid-1930s, as did Norman X. Lyon in 1937. Lyon and Davis both came from the local Mt. Pleasant newspaper, Davis later went to work for the Grand Rapids Press. Lyon took the job to "fill in for awhile." "Awhile" turned out to be a very long time. From 1937 until 1972, Lyon would alternately be Editor of the Oil News and the Mt. Pleasant Daily Times News, the local newspaper. After retirement, he continued as a contributor to the Oil & Gas News until his 1991 death.

Early in the game Murphy decided the future of the oil and gas industry looked good enough to expand the publication. Incorporation and stock sales followed in order to purchase a printing plant. In due course the printing press was purchased and installed in upstairs quarters, a move Murphy soon regretted. The equipment shook both the newspaper building and those near it so much they were forced to quickly find a ground floor location. In very short order a North Frankin Street lot was purchased and a building built.

Also involved in the early days of the publication were:

  • Don Carr, covered the Bloomingdale, Salem and Grand Rapids shallow Traverse booms from 1937-42. Later Carr edited the publication from 1947-1957 while Lyon went over to edit the Daily Times News. For a few months in 1967, Carr again became editor when Lyon was recovering from lung cancer surgery.
  • Bob Breed, a degreed geologist who joined the Oil & Gas News as the Bloomingdale boom took off. Breed and Carr scouted Southeastern Michigan for the publication. Later Breed scouted for Sohio and Smith Petroleum before going into consulting.

The Franklin Street location served the Oil & Gas News for almost forty years. Through that time Murphy was Publisher and Lyon and Carr alternated as Editor. In 1972, both Murphy and Lyon had reached retirement age. Now the joint owners of the publication, they were looking to sell the paper but without much luck. There was a chance the paper might simply cease publication.

The Michigan Oil And Gas Association was not necessarily interested in being in the publication business but it was interested in keeping alive the weekly communications "glue" the magazine provided. MOGA bought the publication rights to the Oil & Gas News in December, 1972. For a few months the publication ceased printing, but in March 1973 Jack R. Westbrook was hired as manager and editor. The paper resumed publication in April. Dick Bolton, fresh from CMU following U.S. Air Force service, was hired in June of that year to assist Westbrook and edited the publication until 1981 when Bolton left the publication. Bolton now works for the Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun as a photographer and columnist. Ironically, in 1982 Scott Bellinger, present MOGN Editor, left the Morning Sun to join the Oil & Gas News. In 2002 Westbrook retired to become "contributing editor" and Bellinger replaced Westbrook as managing editor of the publication.

In the past 20 years, the publication has:

  • Run educational series of articles on various aspects of the industry for the edification of other factions of the industry, as well as the public.
  • Reported extensively and more completely than any other publication about the evolution and continued development of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.
  • Run papers and guest articles by industry experts about innovations within the industry or impacting the industry.

In addition the Michigan Oil & Gas News has:

  • Published geological charts, drilling maps, and pipeline maps of Michigan for industry and public education.
  • Published two books about Michigan's petroleum exploration and production history
  • Educated the public about Michigan petroleum exploration and production history by having personnel make speeches to civic, educational and industry groups.

The Michigan Oil And Gas Association

Prior to the founding of the present Michigan Oil And Gas Association, a group of petroleum folk in the Muskegon area formed an organization in 1928 to establish higher crude oil prices. E. J. Bouwsma, a Muskegon Oil Company employee, was the group's president. However, as the boom at Muskegon subsided and the 1928 Mt. Pleasant Field became the industry's focus, the Muskegon-based association faded away.

However the problems that bedeviled Muskegon oil producers, particularly overproduction causing slumping crude oil prices soon became a problem in the Central Michigan Fields. To deal with these problems producers in Central Michigan, along with those from Muskegon and Saginaw met in Mt. Pleasant and formed the Oil and Gas Producers Association in 1931. Newly arrived oil attorney Haswell Grant became the group's President. That association was phased out when its leaders decided to reorganize with a broader member base and a better dues structure.

This broader, better financed organization was named the Michigan Oil And Gas Association. At a November 27, 1933 meeting, the newly formed MOGA elected Gordon Oil's Howard D. Atha President.

State Regulation and Revenue

Among the most important changes that occurred during the Great Depression was the beginning of significant state regulation of oil and gas exploration as well as the development of new sources of state revenue that depended upon that regulation. In 1927 the state legislature first passed a law specifically regulating the oil exploration industry. The head of the state's Department of Conservation was named "Supervisor of Wells." The supervisor had several responsibilities regarding the sinking, drilling, deepening, and capping of oil wells.

The same law required that drillers receive a permit from the state before beginning any project. Permit No. 1 was issued by the (then) Michigan ­Conservation Department on September 27 for a well drilled by Logan Oil ­Company in Logan Township, Mason County. A total of 16 drilling ­permits were issued in 1927. Since 1927, the number of drilling permits issues has become a quick way to measure exploration activity. Boom years were tallied when the number of permits issues exceeded 1,000. This has occurred 14 times, with extended "streaks" between 1939 and 1941, and 1981-1983. In 1992 a record 2,024 drilling permits were issued. Approximately 57,000 permits have been issued to date.

The state sought not only to regulate oil drilling but also turned to exploration activity as a source of badly needed revenue. Much earlier the state had passed the Public Domain Act of 1909 that separated surface and mineral rights to state land and reserved for the state "mineral, coal, oil, or gas" rights to any land the state sold. The concept of leasing state-owned mineral properties for oil and gas exploration purposes became a serious concern after the 1925 discovery of oil in Saginaw. In 1928 the State Conservation Commission adopted a policy requiring those requesting a lease to make written application, agree to pay a rental fee of fifty cents per acre per year, established that except in extraordinary circumstances no lease would be granted for less than a five acre parcel, and that leases would run for a five year period. The applicant also was required to document adequate financial support and operating experience to both complete the project and do so in an "intelligent and efficient" manner.

The idea of granting leases at a fixed price soon gave way to the concept of auctioning leases for oil and gas exploration. On December 30, 1929 the first public auction of oil and gas lease rights to state-owned minerals was conducted in Lansing. Lease auctions in the 1930s helped buoy the state through the tough financial times of the Depression. In the now 221 auction history of state leasing, offerings have ranged from just 46 acres to as many as 583,241 acres. The lowest overall lease auction event average bid of 3/10 of a cent per acre was realized in August 1932 while the highest overall auction average bid of $316 per acre was made in August 1981. All told, the state has offered oil and gas lease rights to a total of 13,223,215 acres of state-owned minerals on the public auction block with some of the acreage offered more than once as leases expired or acreage went without a bid at first offering. Of that total offering, 8,854,039 acres (66.95 percent of acreage offered) has been successfully leased for a total of $165,291,662. This has resulted in an ­overall per acre average of $18.67.

Lease auctions are just the beginning of the cash flow stream to land and mineral owners if commercial quantities of oil and gas are found. Lease bonuses and rentals are payment to the mineral owner for the right to look for oil and gas on their mineral property. If none is found, the mineral owner is left the richer for having leased. If producible oil and gas are found, the mineral owner's revenue stream begins for the life of that production. In the state's case, of course, there are in addition to those revenues, funds collected in taxes. Leasing state minerals has produced a constant revenue stream for the state and all its citizens.

In the aftermath of the 1938 Bloomingdale discovery and drilling frenzy, the Michigan Oil And Gas Association (under the leadership of Alma independent petroleum producer/explorer Harold M. McClure, Sr.), representing the oil and gas ­industry, and Michigan government ­regulators, in the interests of energy conservation and safety, cooperated in the crafting of rules and procedures. The most important of these established a minimum well spacing of one well per ten acres and introduced mandatory production proration, limiting the daily output of wells to preserve the natural dynamics of the reservoir and prolong the effective productive life of the reservoir.

The Michigan legislature incorporated these rules and regulations into law through Michigan Act 61 ( Michigan's "Oil and Gas Law") of 1939. The law was considered classic oil regulation. Act 61 was upgraded and incorporated into by the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (Act No. 451 of the Public Acts of 1994), which continues to serve as primary regulatory instrument for the Michigan oil and gas exploration and production industry.

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.

The 1950s The Discovery of Michigan's only Giant Oil Field

The early part of the 1950s continued the activity of the 1940s. Geologists and oil exploration firms continued to be successful finding significant but not huge pools of oil and natural gas. Lurking in the background however was a fortune teller and a farmer's wife, who never bothered to consult a geologist but had the luck to drill the well that would open Michigan's largest oil field.

In the spring of 1950 and the state was ready for a new "boom". Harold McClure, Jr. and Aurora Gasoline Company were taking leases and drilling test holes in southwestern Michigan, but nothing exciting was happening in the area, yet. Brazos Oil, was leasing land and testing in Otsego County at depths of 5,918 to 6,530 feet, producing about 42 barrels a day from one well. Brazos had already had located heavy gas flow in the Niagaran Formation while drilling a well in Hamlin Township, Mason County. But nobody was taking the Niagaran any more seriously than McClure and Aurora Gasoline in southwestern Michigan. Much more interest was to be had in Brazos leasing campaigns, one of the largest in state history that gathered drilling rights to more than a million acres of state and private minerals and was carrying on considerable Richfield drilling in the northeast part of the state.

The decade's first find was near Mt. Pleasant. Drilling contractor/explorer/producer C.W. "Cliff" Collin and Mt. Pleasant landman/explorer Frank Rand (whose interest holders in the project included I.W. Hartman and Stuart Merrill) received a permit to drill a wildcat well on May 8, 1950 in the NW NW NW of Section 20-T14N-R4W, Union Township, Isabella County, with a target depth of 3,650 feet. The Rand group controlled about 740 acres of leases in sections 17, 18, 19, and 20 in Union Township. Drilling commenced on May 15, 1950, on the Albar well.

A few weeks later, as word spread of the oil show, hundreds of townspeople lined M-20 west of Mt. Pleasant to watch the Albar well neared total depth. Onlookers' conversation turned to speculation of another oil boom west of the town like the one east of Mt. Pleasant that had sheltered the area from the Great Depression. Sitting on the seat of my granddad's brand new ‘49 Chevy coupe, much of the conversation was over my ten year old head but I knew this was great and exciting stuff.

The July 21 and 28 issues of Michigan Oil & Gas News carried front page stories about the discovery; with the latter boasting the well had already produced 2,500 barrels of oil. The Albar 1 was tested at about four barrels of oil an hour with ease.

A royalty-buying spree broke out almost immediately. Turner Petroleum Corporation and Leonard Oil Company snapped up acreage in the area. Landowners near the well reported leases at $50 an acre and above. Superior Oil Company made plans for an almost immediate west offset well while Cities Service plotted a north offset. The boom was on; soon to die.

All told, the one well Union 20 Field produced 58,263 barrels of oil and 55.05 million cubic feet of natural gas before being abandoned in 1963. On the map, four dry offsets surround the site of Albar 1. Today a communication antenna tower marks the spot where a rig once was the center of speculation.

The 1950s brought St. Clair County back to life as oil and gas country. In 1952 Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Company, with Michigan Consolidated Gas, brought in the successful Ringle 1 in Casco Township and named the resulting field "Boyd", after the company's geologist. The Boyd Field would produce over 2.3 million barrels of oil and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas from 49 wells drilled to the Salina-Niagaran at 2,457 feet. A year later the company opened the Ira Field with two wells drilled to only 2,375 feet. The Ira Field produced more than 3.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas from the Salina-Niagaran before 1961 conversion to a natural gas storage field.

More and greater St. Clair County action was to follow as Owosso independent producer/explorer Glen A. Mills drilled a well in Casco Township three miles from the "Boyd" location. Bill Albers had his rig on the holes and brought it in at 75 to 125 barrels a day from the Niagaran. The well became the opener for oil and gas development over the next ten years in St. Clair County.

The Peters Field discovery in 1955 of a Salina-Niagaran field that would see over six million barrels of oil and 25 billion cubic feet of natural gas produced from about 2,386 feet from 1,780 acres in Casco Township. Geologist Gordon Kiddoo named the source of the Salina-Niagaran production in a report to the Michigan Geological Survey. "The bulk of the gas and oil is contained in dolomitized reef material" Kiddoo said, "with a lesser amount in associated A-1 carbonate". The "reef" moniker and the lessons learned in drilling Salina-Niagaran reefs in St, Clair County would be useful in later years in northern Michigan, when pinnacle reef discoveries would bring a tremendous flow of natural gas online.

In 1954 Swan-King, Basin Oil Company and Alma's McClure Oil Company discovered a good Detroit River formation well in Reynolds Township of Montcalm County to launch the Reynolds Field. The field would put 4.6 million barrels of crude oil into the tanks from 53 producing wells drilled to a depth of about 3,550 feet.

Also in 1954 "Top" Taggart, of Big Rapids fame) opened up the Northville Field in Salem Township of Washtenaw County County, close to Detroit, with his LeMaster well, produced from the Trenton zone. The field covered nearly 2,800 acres in a winding narrow trend strung for more than eight miles and touching parts of Washtenaw, Oakland and Wayne counties, producing more than 18 billion feet of natural gas and over a million barrels of oil from the Trenton/Black River, Dundee and Niagaran formations before conversion to a natural gas storage field in 1968.


Finding the Big One: The Albion-Pulaski-Scipio Trend

The story of the discovery well of Michigan's only "giant" oil field, using the worldwide definition of having produced more than 100 million barrels of oil from a single contiguous reservoir is the stuff of dreams, and of oilfield legends. One version of the legend says that a fortune teller told young Ferne Housekecht that a "black river of oil" lay beneath her property in Hillsdale County. Inspired by this revelation, Houseknecht enlisted Clifford Perry, a contract driller and sometimes farmer, to secure a drilling permit and drill a hole on her property. Another version of the story says that the Houseknects were taking a cow to be bred and on the way drove past a drilling rig where Perry was working and from their conversation a deal was struck. Whatever the truth the Houseknect's paid Perry to drill the Houseknecht 1 in Section 10 of Scipio Township, Hillsdale County.

The well was begun in May of 1954. It took Perry more than two and a half years to drill the hole, often with months between work. "The well was drilled with no encouragement from the DNR or the petroleum industry." The late Ferne Houseknecht Bradford wrote me, "The finances came from my family and friends." Persistence paid off when on January 7, 1957 at 4:00 p.m., oil was struck at 3,576 feet in the Trenton zone.

The field would come to be known as the "Golden Gulch" and would foster a "boom" on a discovery-hungry petroleum industry to end a fifteen year major discovery drought. The well triggered a drilling frenzy that would result in 734 wells producing more than 150 million barrels of oil and almost a quarter-trillion (225 billion) cubic feet of natural gas from a twenty-nine mile long by as much as a mile and a half wide underground "trench of porosity and permeability" angling southeast to northwest, spanning parts of Hillsdale, Jackson, Calhoun and nominally into Eaton counties.

Although Ferne Houseknect and her family paid for and benefited from the discovery well some oilfolk shared her suspicions about what lay underground in the area. Harold McClure, Jr. and Detroit industrialist Max Fisher (Aroura Gasoline Company) had taken an enormous block of leases on acreage in the general area and drilled several test wells. Although they failed to make the discovery, McClure and Aurora were the first to offset the discovery well with a successful development well drilled in the 3,500 to 4,100 foot Trenton and Black River dolomite and were well positioned to benefit from the find.

A little to the north, Mt. Pleasant's Tom Mask and K. P. Wood, along with attorney Ray Markel, put together a deal with McClure for a wildcat well near the City of Albion in Calhoun County. The test well, twelve miles northwest of the Perry-Houseknect well, started to make oil from the Trenton in November of 1958, adding the " Albion" portion of the Trend's field name. Up in Pulaski Township Mt. Pleasant's Turner Petroleum put the maraschino cherry on the Albion-Scipio sundae with a strong new well in Pulaski Township, Jackson County ( about midway between the Scipio and Albion wells), putting the Pulaski "pearl" in the Albion-Pulaski-Scipio Field name necklace.

Other 1950s field discoveries

Besides the aforementioned, the 1950 -1959 decade saw other discoveries including, among others:

  • The McBain in Missaukee County, a Dundee field discovered by Walter Leonard and Ervin Major with 24 wells on 1,000 acres producing over three million barrels of oil all-time.
  • Montcalm County's Stanton Field, with 960,000 total barrels of oil produced from 340 acres, discovered in 1951.
  • The Skeels Field of Clare County, developed by Don Rayburn in the early-mid 1950s. This multi-pay zone field would, from 40 wells, produce all-time 1.2 million barrels of oil from the Richfield and the Sour Zone, another 980,000 barrels of oil from the Dundee from the Dundee, Richfield
  • The Taggart's Overisel Field, a 1955 discovery in Allegan County covering 6,000 acres and to produce 14 billion cubic feet of natural gas from 194 before conversion to a natural gas storage field in 1950.
  • Just before Christmas, 1957, the Miller Brothers of Allegan found a field in Riverton Township of Mason County, to recover 242,200 barrels of oil from 19 wells before abandonment in 1971.

1953 - Michigan Desk and Derrick Club Founded

The first Desk and Derrick club was founded in New Orleans, Louisiana in March, 1949 by a group of women, most of whom were employed in the industry, who wanted to learn more about the oil industry and hoped to get acquainted with women doing similar work in other companies. The idea caught on and led to the formation of Desk and Derrick clubs in Jackson MS (June, 1949), Los Angeles CA (April, 1950) and Houston TX (August, 1950). The Association of Desk and Derrick Clubs of North America was formed July 23, 1951 by the presidents of the New Orleans, Jackson, Los Angeles, and Houston clubs and counted 883 members. By June, 1953 the Association had more than 6,000 members representing 1,000 firms and was comprised of over 49 clubs from Canada to the southwestern states and from the eastern seaboard to the Pacific Coast.

The first chapter of the Desk and Derrick Club in Michigan was organized June 23, 1953 by charter members Helen Beauregard (secretary to M.B. Decker), Effie Mae Cook(Evaluation Sales & Service), MarionDean (Skeets & Sullivan), DoreneDunn (Gordon Drilling Company), Viola Frost (Conservation Department, Geological Survey Division), Leona Hoot (Turner Petroleum Company, Rose Lagoe (Roosevelt Oil & Refining Corp.), Geneva Lea (Dowell, Inc.), Eilene Milloy (Roosevelt Oil & Refining Corp), Lucille Morey (Northern Plains Petroleum Company),Rose Neff(secretary to R. Lee Browning), Thelma "Tommy" Prior(secretary to I.W. Hartman), Thelma Rowe (Dowell Inc.), Lola Scribner(Michigan Oil & Gas News), JaneStienke (Sun Oil Company), Marie Ware (Pure Oil Company) and Annabell Welsh (Gordon Oil Company). In the 1970s the Cascades Desk and Derrick Club was organized in Jackson, Michigan and in the 1980s the Bay Area Desk and Derrick Club (or B.A.D.D. as they nicknamed themselves) came into being in Traverse City.

Today only the Traverse City group remains but the Michigan Desk and Derrick Club involvement remains strong: Jackson, Michigan's Cindy Weaver (Midway Supply), was elected the national Association of Desk and Derrick Club's first President from Michigan at the ADDC's conference in Traverse City in 2004.

1960s Activity in Southern Michigan with a Look North Late in the Decade

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 emotion-packed controversy.

The 1970's New Finds, a Record Deep Hole, and Controversy

The 1970s came in with a flurry of Niagaran pinnacle reef discoveries in the north and south pinnacle reef trends. Shell and Amoco dominated the northern play amongst the majors. New independents like Reef Petroleum of Mt. Pleasant, the Preston Brothers of Traverse City popped up almost as fast as new reef discoveries to join established firms such as Miller Brothers, McClure, Muskegon Development, Consumers Power (now NOMECO) in the pinnacle hunting grounds. Manistee, Mason, Cheboygan and Alpena counties quickly joined Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Otsego and Presque Isle counties as places where pinnacle reef successes were reported. In the south however Mobil was pretty much the lone ranger.

One of the most important reasons for the sudden growth in pinnacle reef discovery and exploitation was changing technology. First, with the help of computerization, seismograph data interpretation technology cracked the "below the Dundee reading confusion." By being able to "see" deeper, seismography made finding pinnacle reefs easier. Second, directional drilling technology (slant drilling), long a staple of offshore drilling, was perfected for onshore use. It was heralded as an environmental breakthrough for drilling in sensitive areas by then Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Gene Gazlay. Indeed it was "just the ticket" for reaching pinnacle reefs located under streams, rivers, swamps and other ecologically sensitive areas, a matter which would become of pressing importance during the decade.

The Pigeon River State Forest Controversy

By the mid-1960s exploration was increasing in northern Michigan with widespread anticipation that significant pools of oil and natural gas were waiting to be discovered. On July 1, 1970, Shell Oil Company announced a major find in the area. Shell's discovery began a long battle over drilling in the area that would last for over a decade. For some, July 1, 1970 was considered the blackest of days. Ford Kellum, a wildlife biologist employed by the state's Department of Natural Resources, was one such person. Kellum was inalterably opposed to drilling in the Pigeon River area. The Pigeon River area was a roughly 500 square mile area in the northeast corner of the Lower Peninsula. In the early years of the twentieth century, P. S. Lovejoy, administrator of the State's Department of Conservation, conceived of creating a "wilderness tract" in the area that would become much like the pristine forest that had existed before the logging era. As part of the project, in 1917 and 1918 wild elk from the Rocky Mountains were released in the forest, to recreate the elk which once lived in the region but had become extinct. Until his death in 1942, Lovejoy's was devoted to the "Pigeon River Project."

Kellum inherited Lovejoy's fierce devotion for preserving the area as a "Big Wild" as well as to protecting and enhancing the re-established elk herd and other wild animals which lived in the area. Kellum became the central figure opposing drilling in the area. In the early 1970s Kellum found sympathetic ears among a few northern Michigan newspapermen, who took up his cause, and he organized opposition among groups such as the Audubon Club chapters and the Michigan Bear Hunters Association. In 1971 Kellum resigned his DNR position to spend all of his time opposing drilling in the area. He organized the Pigeon River Country Association to create a group to promote his vision for the forest and to oppose oil exploration in the area. The Pigeon River Country Association organization eventually proposed creating a 125 square mile tract of land to be kept completely free of development. For the next decade, newspapers, the legislature, the courts, the governor, and the public would argue over the fate of this 125 square mile tract.

State government was unable to speak with a single voice on the matter. Some elected officials and state employees supported drilling while others opposed it. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was internally divided on the subject and its staff spoke on both sides of the issue. The DNR's on again, off again pronouncements and policies angered all parties.

From the industry perspective, the state had auctioned mineral rights under the Pigeon River Forest for record prices, then balked at issuing drilling permits, sometimes imposing temporary moratoriums on new lease auctions or on all new permits and in some cases denying requests for specific drilling permits. This action was unprecedented. In the past drilling permits had always followed leases. Although in 1977 the state Supreme Court affirmed previous lower court rulings that found that state law did not require the state to issue a drilling permit for land where the state had previously leased its mineral rights, the "change in the rules" led to confusion and anger among oil explorers.

The Pigeon River Country Association believed that no drilling was acceptable. The PRCA demanded that since the state had the authority to ban drilling regardless of whether or not it had leased the mineral rights, it should do so. If PRCA was angry with the DNR, the organization's anger turned to fury in 1975 when DNR Director Howard Tanner issued a proposed regulation which allowed significant drilling in the area. "Just one well, just one more, could ruin the whole forest," declared the president of the Pigeon River Country Association.

In northern Michigan, public opinion regarding drilling was divided. Some residents certainly agreed with the PRCA's position, but others saw the potential for economic growth outweighing the possibly environmental problems. State representative Mark Thompson of Rogers City, for example, was blunt in his demand for drilling permits. Over the years, at a variety of public hearings held on the topic of oil exploration and exploitation, the industry, environmentalists, and the public all expressed themselves at great length. Attorney William A. Porter, representing diverse citizens of Otsego County at a Michigan Natural resources Commission public hearing February 18, 1972 expressed the local, pro-development, opinion.

Gentlemen ;

I am here representing a number of interested citizens who make up part of the business community and landowners in Otsego County. Our sole purpose in being here today is to acquaint you with the economic impact that the oil and gas and related industries have on our community and will hopefully continue to make in the future.

Historically, the economy of the Otsego County area has been primarily based on the recreation and tourist industry, which until the advent of I-75 was seasonal and greatly fluctuating at best.

We have attempted to gather a few statistics we hope will be meaningful to the Commission in relating to our local economy. To date, there are approximately 240 local employees working directly for the oil and gas industry. These persons are not transferees or persons brought to our community from other parts of the country, but people who have been drawn from our own local labor market. The wages paid to these individuals are well above the average wage that is presently being paid in Northern Michigan. We have personally observed semi-skilled workers whose previous annual income of approximately $5,000 more than doubled during the last taxable year as a result of their employment in the oil and gas industry.

We have perhaps six oil-related supply firms who have established operations in Otsego County. They, too, have drawn from the local labor pool for their employees. We know that a major oil company has a monthly payroll of $150,000 in Otsego County alone and I think it is not unreasonable to assume that an additional $150,000 is paid to wage earners from suppliers to the industry. One of our local real estate brokers reports that during the calendar year of 1971, he sold $375,000 worth of permanent housing to industry employees. This figure represents approximately one-third of his total sales.

Again this figure would be higher if we included the people employed by related supply and service companies. We have another report from one of our hotel-restaurant combinations indicating that they derived $300,000 or approximately thirty percent of their gross sales from oil and gas industry employees.

Our local bank grew some 40 percent in the last two years from $18,900,000 at the end of 1969 to $26,600,000 at the end of 1971. The oil and gas industry again has added substantially to our economic base and given it strength and consistency by eliminating the peaks and valleys which we experience in the past and we hope it will continue to do so.

It appears to us that oil and gas exploration and production, well regulated and reasonably controlled with regard to individual circumstances, is not incompatible with legitimate conservation goals. The two are not mutually exclusive. Certainly the industry will not achieve everything it desires, nor will those people who totally oppose any exploration or production achieve everything they want …. Ours is merely an expression of a general concern that neither extreme becomes predominant in the regulatory process.

Kellum himself never fully appreciated the reasons for local support of drilling. As Gordon Charles put it, "It came as quite a blow to Kellum, but he didn't give up. He just set his jaw a little harder, met with some of his followers, and mapped a new strategy." Oil company leaders were also setting their jaws a little harder. McClure Oil Company of Alma, for example, which had been denied a drilling permit on land it had previously leased, filed a test case in 1974 that would eventually find its way to the State Supreme Court in 1977.

In October 1975 Tom Washington, the newly appointed director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, decided it was time to abandon the environmentalists "absolutely not" strategy. "If we can't stop them," Washington said, "we should seek the most palatable plan and get all the concessions we can." Washington quietly began talking with Frank Mortl, executive director of the Michigan Oil And Gas Association. Eventually an innovative and creative solution was reached that balanced the desire for economic development with the need for preserving the environment. MUCC and MOGA agreed that drilling should continue, however revenue the state realized from oil leases and royalties would be used to buy more land for the use of Michigan's sportsmen. Although Washington was sharply criticized for this stand by some MUCC member organizations, he stood his ground going so far as to disparage the elk herd, which had often been the emotional heart of the discussion. "We are not," Washington said, "enamored with this species and do not feel this would be an irreplaceable loss to the state if, in fact, a total loss will occur." Governor William Milliken, in his 1976 state of the state address, expanded on the MUCC-MOGA solution, calling for all oil and gas revenues generated by the state to be placed in a "Heritage Trust Fund."

The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund was created by the legislature through Public Act 204 in 1976. The fund was the first in the nation that earmarked state revenue generated through oil and natural gas industry activity for the acquisition or improvement of environmentally sensitive land or for meeting community needs for outdoor recreation. Specifically the fund serves six purposes:

  • Protecting natural resource
  • Providing public access to Michigan waterways
  • Improving outdoor recreation in urban areas
  • Stimulating Michigan's economy through recreation-related tourism
  • Meeting community needs for outdoor recreation, and
  • Investing funds in projects that will yield the best long-term public recreation return.

As of 2004, $635,084,700 has been spent through the Trust Fund to support 1,439 projects in all 83 Michigan counties. Among the projects funded by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund are:

  • Purchasing 70 miles of river frontage and more than 25,000 acres along two of the nation's top trout streams (the Au Sable and the Manistee)
  • Helping the City of St. Joseph acquire 22 acres of Lake Michigan shoreline for Silver Beach County Park
  • Assisting Banks Township in Antrim County in obtaining more than 150 acres (including nearly a mile of frontage on Grand Traverse Bay)
  • Obtaining 10,000 acres of undeveloped land in Mackinac County, including more than five miles of Lake Michigan frontage
  • Acquiring the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula
  • Assisting in the acquisition for public use of Manistee County's CMS Arcadia/Green Point Dunes area as well as augmenting the City of Saugatuck park system with acquisition of the precious Dension South property sand dunes

In the early years, the fund also served as a means to help balance the state budget and fund the Michigan Economic Development Authority and other ­programs. Only small amounts of monies accrued to the fund's principal balance. Repeated "raids" over a period of seven years saw more than $100 million diverted to programs other than those in the original philosophy of the fund. Protests to the "raids" on the fund grew louder and more widespread. Voters in a statewide referendum election held in 1982 banned future raids on the Fund. Although voters banned diversion of the Fund for programs not related to its original intent by state government, some critics of the manner in which the Fund is operated continue to complain that tax rules made in the 1980s allowing oil and gas companies to deduct post-production costs from payments due the state unfairly lessened the amount of money paid into the Fund.

Although the creation of the Natural Resources Trust Fund was the most lasting act that flowed from the controversy, it did not in itself resolve the Pigeon River controversy. The controversy finally ended in 1980, with the passage of legislation allowing drilling in the southern third of the Pigeon River State Forest, while banning all drilling operations in the northern two-thirds of the forest for twenty years.

The Deepest Hole

In the spring of 1974, the October, 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, and memories of long lines at the gas station were still fresh in the mind of Michiganians and Americans. "Project Energy Independence" was the watchword of federal legislators, vowing immediate adoption of a Federal energy policy.

Into that world strode Alma's Harold M. McClure with a proposal to drill a deep (11,000 foot) exploration hole in North Star Township, Gratiot County. Previous deep holes in Michigan included:

  • A 1942 Gulf Refining well, the Bateson 1, drilled to 10,447 feet in Bay County;
  • The 1964-drilled Brazos State Foster 1 well drilled to 12,966 feet in Ogemaw County;
  • The 1972-drilled Downing, Dennis J. & Milton 1 gas well drilled to 7,837 feet by independent E. Edwin Brehm in Tuscola County.

The first drilling permit for the wildcat Sparke-Eckelbarger-Whightsil 1-8 deep test was issued to McClure Oil Company May 3, 1974 for an 11,000 foot sub-Trenton-Black River hole a mile south of Ithaca. The official depth on the certificate, however, was only an estimate. McClure geologist Bill Roth said that while the permit was for 11,000 feet "it is uncertain where the drill bit will quit turning to the right." Conventional wisdom had it that bedrock was somewhere between 11,000 to 15,000 feet under the drill site – a depth McClure hoped to determine with precision. In the venture with McClure were the Michigan Oil Company and the Shell Oil Company.

The deepest-ever Michigan hole drilled in the search for oil and gas was begun on June 2, 1974, In July, 1974 it discovered natural gas between 3,991 and 4,113 feet, but in only small quantities. At 9,695 feet, a frustrating accident occurred. While the tool string was being removed from the hole for a drill bit change, the Kelly bushing (the device that introduces the torque to the drill pipe to rotate the rotary drill bit) parted and went down the hole, along with some drill collars, A seven week "fishing" (removal of downhole obstructions) and drill pipe straightening job followed before drilling resumed.

In April, 1975, drilling reached 13,000 feet, shattering previous depth records. Already having received a "deepening" permit from the state to drill to 18,000 feet, everything was in the record books. It had taken 298 days and two fishing jobs to reach the new record drilling depth. At 12,193 feet the drill bit began to chew into an unfamiliar red formation described as predominantly shale with sand flecks. This red stuff was to last for over 5,000 feet, baffling all comers.

In October, 1975, a fourth drilling coring operation was run from 17,409 feet to what was later declared final total depth at 17,466 feet. The red stuff had come to an end when some green material was encountered at about 17,000 feet. Time, materials and resources exhausted, the decision was made to stop drilling. The hole was declared dry. However, before it was plugged and abandoned, the National Science Foundation and other earth scientists swarmed the location.

Sadly, while drilling the well, Harold M. McClure learned he had cancer, which took his life December 17, 1977.

The 1970s saw Michigan produce 226.526 million barrels of oil. 1970s natural gas production was 871.553 billion cubic feet. In the 1970s Michigan oilfolk drilled a total of 4,935 holes resulting in: 1,174 oil wells, 475 natural gas wells, 2,610 dry holes and, 676 facility (service) wells. Finally, in October 1973 Michigan's own C. John Miller, Allegan independent petroleum explorer/producer, was elected President of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), the second Michiganian to hold that office. Harold McClure had been IPAA President 1967-1968.

The 1980s - Some Dig Deep, Others Dig Shallow

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 1979

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 Basin.

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 an elephant.

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 technologies.

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 production levels.

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.

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.

The Promise of the 21st Century

The new century finds the Michigan oil and gas industry in some ways where it was during the 1940s and early 1950s; finding marketable quantities of oil and particularly natural gas but lacking any major new discoveries. But if the past is any guide, the future may well be one of promise. Over 50,000 holes have been drilled in Michigan to date in the search for oil and gas, and of those known; the result has been 14,744 oil wells, 11,518 natural gas wells and 20,961 dry holes. From less than two percent of Michigan land area, 1.240 billion barrels of crude oil and 6.358 trillion cubic feet of natural gas have been produced from 64 Michigan Lower Peninsula counties. The belief prevails among some that the elephants (big oil & natural gas fields) have all been found and there is nothing left but small discoveries and secondary, tertiary and quaternary recovery production. This belief flies in the face of the lessons of Michigan petroleum history which has followed a boom-bust cycle for nearly eight decades. As Michigan petroleum geologist Michael Barratt has said, "There is at least as much oil and gas to be found and produced in Michigan as we have already found."

There is reason to believe that bountiful oil and natural gas resources remain to be discovered in Michigan and the people who look for and find those resources continue to do so. They also continue to be a close-knit fraternity, linked through professional journals such as the Michigan Oil & Gas News and trade groups such as the Michigan Oil And Gas Association. But the fraternity is more than simply a matter of knowledge and professional courtesy. Over the years the personal relationships between those in the industry have grown. It is, in addition to everything else, a group of friends, sometimes friendly rivals, but often good friends.

Once a year, the third Thursday of June, that friendship is celebrated in Mt. Pleasant. For a day the town becomes again the epicenter of the Michigan oil and gas exploration and production industry universe as oilfolk with Michigan roots from around the state, the nation, and sometimes the world, gather for the Annual Michigan Oil And Gas Association Picnic/Reunion, a tradition that now spans more than 70 years.

Since 1933, every year but two (1943 and 1945 during World War II), oilfolk from points nationwide have held the date of the "Oil Picnic" sacred as a day for warm handshakes, fond memories, and greeting friends old and new in an informal, relaxed atmosphere. It's a day which weather can not dampen, a day for golf togs instead of neckties, a day when the only total depth fretted over is the few inches directly below the hole-flag and the only off set to be concerned with is that from the tee to the flag.

Originally what was to become the picnic was a formal banquet. The mid-year meeting of the Michigan Oil And Gas Association, from 1934 until 1939, was for directors only, held in Mt. Pleasant. But in 1939, then MOGA President Harold McClure, Senior, held a summer picnic in lieu of the banquet and declared the event open to "the oil fraternity as a whole", with all oilmen (MOGA members or not) invited. Mt. Pleasant and the Mt. Pleasant Country Club became the official home of the Annual MOGA Picnic/Reunion in 1946. Since then, regardless of where the current field action or "boom" is, oilfolk have known that on picnic day it was time to come to Mt. Pleasant.


Owing to my journalistic background, I'm not a footnote kind of guy and since I identify sources of quotes in the text, there is no need for a bibliography.

However, a few word of credit are due however.

  • A great deal of the narrative regarding the early days of Michigan petroleum exploration (in addition to my own research) have been borrowed, rephrased, or blatantly stolen from my predecessor as Michigan Oil & Gas News (MOGN) Managing Editor Norman X. Lyon, who wrote a column for the publication called " Sample Bag" for the magazine into the 1980s and provided an outstanding treatise on early Michigan petroleumdom in the June 13, 1975 Progress Edition 1925-1975 edition of Michigan Oil & Gas News.
  • Dick Bolton, who served as Editor of the Michigan Oil & Gas News between 1973 and 1981 was Sundance Kid to my Butch Cassidy in my early days as General Manager of the publication. We established many of the procedures and reports that continue as the publication's staples. Dick's photography is a large part of the photo database that accompanies this exhibit.
  • Roger Lintemuth, MOGN Associate Editor 1983-1991, who with fellow Associate Editor (then) Scott Bellinger wrote many of the Michigan county petroleum history articles that with mine appeared in the Michigan Oil & Gas News Michigan Oil & Gas Story: County by County, edited by me in 1991.
  • Scott Bellinger, current Editor of the Michigan Oil & Gas News, a friend and associate since 1982, who meets all the criterion of the hitherto thanked, and more, for taking the MOGN into the future.
  • Clarke Historical Library director Frank Boles, whose superior editing expertise rendered my ramblings "suitable for academic consumption."
  • Lastly, me. I've drawn upon my regular Michigan Oil & Gas News column "View from the Monkeyboard" which first appeared in 1999, articles I've done in the 32 years I've worked for the publication, and the two books I've edited, Michigan Oil & Gas Story: County by County, published in 1991 and Michigan Oil & Gas News 60 th Anniversary Photo Review, published in 1993. In discussing all this writing, MOGA President Frank Mortl quipped, "Serving a Great Industry in a Great State" [has] served well in assembling this ramble through The Michigan Basin's oil and gas exploration and production heritage."

Any omissions of people, places and events in this narrative are strictly my own, not by plan nor intent. And if I missed a big important one, my apologies in advance for any offense taken, none was intended - JRW.