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Livingston County Information

Livingston County

Contact Information

Brad Jenkins

Phone: 617-720-2808

Email: info AT bradfordgordon.com

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Livingston County at a Glance

Total wells drilled through December 31, 1988 334
Total oil wells drilled through December 31, 1988 43
Total gas wells drilled through December 31, 1988 39
Total facility wells drilled through December 31, 1988 55
Total dry holes drilled through December 31, 1988 197
Well Density - approximately one well per 2 square miles (583 square miles in county)
Total cumulative oil and lease condensate production through December 31, 1987 990,638 bbls.*
Total cumulative natural gas production through December 31, 1987 33,003,587 Mcf **

* Cumulative oil production total includes all production through 1984 and prorated production only for the years 1985 through 1987. Non-prorated oil production accounts for a very small percentage of overall Livingston County production.
**Cumulative natural gas production total includes all prorated and nonprorated production through 1987.

HOWELL - The story of Livingston County's petroleum history, like those of many other areas within the broad rim of the Michigan Basin, is one of both contrasts and similarities, of discoveries old and new, but perhaps most importantly, one that foretells a bright and shining future for hydrocarbon exploration in the southeastern Lower Peninsula Michigan region.

Nearly all of the oil and gas produced in Livingston County to date has been from the Salina and Niagaran Groups of geologic formations (see listing of producing fields, page 26), but the age of the rock may be one of the only similarities between the county's "old" natural gas reservoirs at Howell and Fowlerville, and the more recently discovered oil-bearing reefs scattered throughout the southwestern corner of the county.

The Department of Natural Resource's Geological Survey Division lists 1935 as discovery year for the Howell Field's Salina-Wagaran natural gas reservoir, making it far and away the earliest strike in the county. While gas pay was discovered in the 18 to 22 feet of regional Brown Niagaran that are present over the large Howell anticline by a 5,958-foot Prairie du Chien test that year, the plugged back deep test was not commercially produced from the zone and did not kick off an immediate gas play.

It wasn't until natural gas transportation giant Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Company looked to Michigan in the mid-1940s as a place to store some of its vast reserves of gas from the southwestern United States that Howell came to be a commercially developed pool.

After drilling tests throughout Michigan in search of a suitable storage reservoir, Panhandle out its McPherson ffl (NW NW SE, Sec 35, T3N, R4E, Howell Township) down on the same ranch where Talbot Oil Company had first tapped the large structure's gas potential.

Tests of seven million cubic feet gas daily reported in October 1946 confirmed not only that Howell had strong promise for both prolific production (it made more than 24 billion cubic feet gas before conversion to storage in 1962) and storage, but also established that the Salina-Niagaran interval was capable of commercial production.

Prior to the Panhandle test, only the famed Gulf Bateson well that blew out and burned in Bay County's Kawkawlin Field a few years earlier had generated much interest in the Salina, but numerous problems had prevented that well from being a commercial success.

It was another deep test that resulted in Livingston's second natural gas discovery at Fowlerville in 1961, with the Fowlerville Field's Salina-Niagaran reservoir associated with a fault-related structure much like Howell. Nine of the 18 wells drilled in Fowlerville are still active today, the pool's cumulative gas production figure of 8.7 billion cubic feet through the end of 1988 is second only to Howell in the county.

The closing of the decade of the 1970's marked the beginnings of Livingston County's modern era of Niagaran reef exploration. Dramatic evidence of just how important the decade of the 1980s has been in the county's development as an oil producing area can be traced through cumulative production figures which show Livingston had produced less than 20,000 barrels oil alltime through 1979, while the latest available county-wide data shows that oil production had exceeded 990,000 barrels through the end of 1987 and was certain to have broken the one million barrel mark by early 1988.

Unlike the relatively thin Niagaran intervals that were productive in Howell and Fowlerville, the reservoirs that have been found in the late 1970s and 1980s have been true Niagaran reefs, with Brown Niagaran buildups of 200 feet common and occasionally reaching as high as 280 feet. Fifteen to 18 feet of A-1 Carbonate drapes over the Brown and is typically considered part of the reef.

The Livingston reefs are relatively small, at least when compared to some of their prolific neighbors to the west in Ingham and Calhoun Counties or those across the northern Niagaran trend, averaging from 20 to 25 acres in areal extent. Their small size and the numerous geophysical difficulties encountered in locating and identifying them makes reef exploration in the area "like looking for rabbits hiding in the brush", according to GeoHorizons Explorations Inc.

President Dan Bertalan, compared to "hunting for elephants" like Howell/Fowlerville or the bigger reefs.

GeoHorizons has been one of the most active and successful hunters of the 1980s in the Livingston play, with prospects developed with and for several independent producers by the firm resulting in the bagging of more than 20 of the productive "rabbits" since early 1983.

Among the geophysical nightmares faced by explorationists in Livingston County, according to Bertalan, are: variations in salt thicknesses in the Salina section; sinuous or snake-like edges in the A-2 Salt and B-Salt solutions, where B-Salt is either absent or partially absent, giving a signature waveform change in the A-2 Carbonate and often the appearance of a reef where one may not exist.

"Livingston County can be a treacherous place to work, geophysically," Bertalan said, "more treacherous than other areas I've worked." He doesn't attribute GeoHorizons' exploration success to any secret formula or technique, but said his method relies heavily on an integration of geologic mapping, well control and geophysical seismic surveys data.

The first Niagaran reefs found to be productive in the late 1970s were discovered by Arbuckle Corporation in Section 11 of Green Oak Township (TIN, R6E) in 1978 and Amoco Production Company in Section 28 of losco Township (T2N, R3E). Arbuckle's American Aggregates Corp. 1-11 made more than 400 Mmcfgas before being shut-in while the Amoco Patrick Unit 1-28 was at best marginally commercial, producing less than 7,000 barrels oil.

While the early exploration had met with limited success, Bertalan commented that well's like the losco 28 find and a later Amoco test in Section 2 of losco Township which found a tall (290 feet), but saltplugged reef may have been done more to discourage rather than encourage continued exploration in Livingston. "If one of the more successful wells had been found back then, things might have opened up faster", he said.

Discoveries in the early 1980s likewise did little to generate widespread industry interest in Livingston, as reefs drilled in by Michigan Oil Company and Dart Oil & Gas Sections 7 and 16 of Hamburg Township (T1N, R5E) in 1981 and 1982 turned out to be relatively poor performers.

Exploration success from 1983 to present has been concentrated in the four townships making up the southwestern quarter of Livingston County, Iosco(T2N, R3E), Marion (T2N, R4E), Unadilla(TlN, R3E) and Putnam (TIN, R4E), with 29 of the county's 38 recognized Niagaran reef reservoirs located in that area.

losco has been the most prolific of the quartet to date, boasting six one-well reefs with cumulative production of 50,000 barrels or more each through the end of 1987, while Marion and Putnam could claim only one each through the same period.

The list of operators taking credit for drilling discoveries in the four-township area includes: Lyco Energy, Northern Michigan Exploration Company, Dart Oil & Gas, Preston Oil, Mosbacher Production, SchmudeOil, M.G.U. Development, Sullivan & Company and Terra Energy Ltd./ Synergy Development.

Both Marion and Putnam Townships could be expected to move considerably in cumulative production on the strength of six discoveries (four in Marion and two in Putnam) since 1985. Preston Oil completed one of Livingston's stronger wells last year as discovery of the Marion 18-2N-4E reservoir, and has since completed a pipeline project that will allow the first significant Niagaran reef gas sales from several wells in southwestern Livingston County.

On the other side of Livingston County in sparsely-drilled Brighton (T2N, R6E) and Hartland (T3N, R6E) Townships, recent drilling has discovered a large sour gas reef (Section 22, Hartland Township-1986) and two promising oil reefs (Sections 2 and 11, Brighton Township-1988). The Hartland discovery, currently operated by Pace Energy, will require treatment due to its hydrogen sulfide content (1,500 grains per 100 cubic feet of air), the Global Natural Resources (Section 11) and Stanley Energy (Section 2) Brighton discoveries were on extended test at last report, with gas being flared.

The tendency for basinward reefs like those found in Brighton and Hartland Townships and areas to the north to be sour and the heavier population density found in Livingston County's suburban areas may prove to be barriers to economic development of potential reserves there.

Successful exploration of horizons other than the Niagaran in Livingston County has been spotty and to date have not kicked off concentrated developments. Texaco Inc. made only the third discovery in the county in 1967 when it drilled into Trenton/ Black River oil pay in Section 14 of Green Oak Township, but the well was to produce less than 3,000 barrels oil before being abandoned in 1970.

Mt. Pleasant independent Three Star Energy tested some shallower zones that had shown promise more than 40 years earlier in 1986 when it drilled several holes within the Fowlerville structure, making small amounts of Traverse Limestone oil and more recently going back deeper in those tries to complete for production of between 50 and 100 Mcf gas daily from the Dundee.

Following a pattern established in discovery of both Howell and Fowlerville, Terra Energy and Smith Petroleum wrote a small chapter in the state's petroleum history by making the initial discovery of hydrocarbons in the Siluriari Manitoulin Dolomite, through the drilling of a deep test. The Terra/Smith Phillips 1-2 (Sec 2, Handy Township, T3N, R3E) went deeper than the earlier Niagaran discoveries, drilling into Pre-Cambrian rock at 7,400 feet before reaching total depth 50 feet into the basement.

Reported initial test production from the Manitoulin was 90 Mcf gas daily, the hole was plugged last year as non-commercial. The Phillips well challenged but did not surpass Livingston's depth record of 7,600 feet, established in the early 1970s by Mobil Oil on the Messmore tt\ (Section 11, Osceola Township, T3N, R5E). Bottoming out slightly deeper than the Terra/Smith deep try at 7,550 feet but not reaching the basement in Section 23 of Deerfield Township to the north was a Don Yohe Enterprises 1984 wildcat, the Laier 1-23.

The Mobil deep test was one of a handful of wildcats the company drilled in Livingston as part of an exploration effort aimed at finding both productive Niagaran reefing and Trenton/Black River pays. They succeeded at neither in Livingston County but went on to discover several of the largest and most prolific reefs yet found in the southern Niagaran Trend in Ingham and Calhoun Counties.

Looking to the future, a combination of factors add up to make Livingston County an attractive place to look for and produce oil and gas. While considerably more developed than it was in the late 1960s, Livingston County still appears to be far from maturity as an oil and gas area.

The appeal of a once wide open gap between reef production in St. Clair County to the east and Ingham/Calhoun to the west that has lured explorationists like Mobil, GeoHorizons and many others to Livingston continues to draw great interest from the industry.

The successes of the last ten years have transformed Livingston from a largely "virgin" territory to a competitive area virtually criss-crossed with seismograph coverage. If the steady flow of discoveries made there in the recent past is any indication, the next ten years is likely to see a good many more "black dots'' added to the Livingston County map.

Selected materials on this page copyright 1991 by Michigan Oil & Gas News, Incorporated.