History of Oil in Michigan

History of Oil in Michigan with the Emphasis on Niagaran Reef Fields      

The first oil discovered in the Michigan Basin was in the Canadian part of the basin in 1858, one year before Col. Drakeís discovery at Titusville.  Production in Michigan was established in 1886 in Devonian rocks at Port Huron field.  By 1910 the Port Huron field had 21 wells each producing 10 barrels of oil per day.  The first commercial natural gas well in Michigan began production in 1911.  In the 1920ís the exploration for oil and gas cumulated in the discovery of many Mississippian and Devonian fields in large anticlinal features.   This exploration reached a peak in the 1930ís and 1940ís and was then followed by exploration for the Silurian Niagaran pinnacle reef trends.    

Starting in the 1960ís a major push towards Niagaran reef exploration took place with majors such as Amoco (then Pan American), Shell, Mobil, Getty, and Consumers Power Company launching huge lease plays in the Northern Reef Trend.  The Southern Reef Trend had also seen several large discoveries but the fact that the land situation in the north was more amenable to large lease plays (it was mostly State land) made the Northern Trend the focus of intense exploration.  This intense exploration continued in the Northern Trend into the 1980ís with both Shell and Amoco having considerable success.  In the Southern Trend Mobil made several significant discoveries but the Southern Trend was mostly an Independents play, mostly due to the land being in private hands making large lease plays more difficult. 

Beginning in the mid 1980ís the national economy was starting to stagnate and the price of oil falling.  The major companies in Michigan; Shell, Amoco, Mobil, along with many independents began to move out of the state.  For the majors the main reason for abandoning Michigan was the price of oil.  As the price fell the majors felt that they needed to explore for ďelephantsĒ and the fields in Michigan, especially the reef fields, did not meet their criteria.  While the total volume of oil produced from Niagaran reefs was significant the volume from a single field was not.  What was occurring in Michigan at this time was repeated throughout the lower 48, the majors were abandoning domestic onshore exploration and heading offshore, to Alaska, and international arenas where conditions were more favorable to achieve their exploration goals.

While several different formations have contributed to Michiganís oil production, Niagaran Reef production has contributed almost 1/2 of the total oil produced in Michigan.  Michigan has produced over 1.3 billion barrels of oil and over 7 trillion cubic feet of gas.  Today, with the price of oil increasing dramatically, Michiganís reefs have become once again a viable economically attractive target for exploration.  This exploration is and will be done primarily by small and medium sized independents.  The Northern Trend is extensively developed and for this reason, along with the land situation, the Southern Trend has become the most promising area for new Niagaran reef fields.

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