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St Clair County Information

St Clair County

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Brad Jenkins

Phone: 617-720-2808

Email: info AT bradfordgordon.com

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St Clair County at a Glance

Total wells drilled through December 31, 1988 1,545
Total oil wells drilled through December 31, 1988 270
Total gas wells drilled through December 31, 1988 196
Total facility wells drilled through December 31, 1988 130
Total dry holes drilled through December 31, 1988 948
Well Density - approximately two wells per square mile (751 square miles in county)
Total cumulative oil and lease condensate production through December 31, 1987* 19,505,295 bbls.
Total cumulative natural gas production through December 31, 1987* 180,480,792 Mcf

* Cumulative oil and gas production totals include all production through 1986 and prorated production only for 1987.

PORT HURON - Oil fever appears to have struck in St. Clair, again.

The apparent discovery of Trenton/Black River oil some five miles west of the community of Marysville near here has kicked off the area's most recent lease play and has some industry insiders speculating that it could be the start of the county's first commercial oil or gas development from an Ordovician-aged horizon.

It's still too early to predict if the commotion being created by Gunner Energy Corporation's Marshall Community #1 (BHL: SE SE NW, Sec 8, T5N, R16E, St. Clair Township) well will be justified by sustained commercial production or successful follow-ups, but the rush to acquire leases and mineral rights said to be taking place around it is reminiscent of what may have been the state's earliest oil "booms'', centered just a few miles to the northeast in nearby Lakeport and Port Huron more than 100 years ago.

The origins of Michigan's first, though unsuccessful, boom are tied to the world's first commercial oil play, just across the St. Clair River and international boundary in the Canadian province of Ontario.

Developments at Oil Springs (beginning in 1858) and Petrolia (1862) of Devonian Dundee oil prompted a frenzy of leasing activity shortly thereafter on the American side in St. Clair County, with thousands of acres reportedly scooped up by speculators from Chicago, Toledo, Milwaukee and even further away. Early drilling attempts showed promise of the hoped for buried treasure, a well near Lakeport reportedly flowed oil from a depth of 35 feet in late 1863 and a well drilled two years later showed for 40 barrels oil daily from around 100 feet.

But poor results on offset tries discouraged the state's first wildcatters and the boom subsided, at least for the next 20 years. The official start of Michigan's commercial oil-producing history would not be until 1886, when C.A. Bailey brought in three Dundee producers at depths of approximately 550 to 575 feet near Port Huron, making two to three barrels oil daily from each.

It was another 12 years before the Port Huron Field would be expanded with additional drilling and by 1910 the pool had grown to 21 wells, all making less than 10 barrels daily. Abandonment of the last of the original Port Huron Field wells in 1921 marked the beginning of a four-year period when the state would produce no oil until the opening of Berea Sandstone oil production at Saginaw, a play that is generally acknowledged as Michigan's first "real" boom.

Despite being overshadowed in importance by the Saginaw strike and what was to develop after it in the Central Basin, St. Clair County has continued through the years to play an important role in Michigan's development as an oil state. After putting the state on the country's petroleum map with the Port Huron oil discovery in 1886, St. Clair was the site of Michigan's first recorded Niagaran production, natural gas from the Diamond Crystal Salt Field, discovered in 1927 in the town of St. Clair, T5N, R17E.

The one-well field was active for four years, according to Geological Survey Division records, producing 139 million cubic feet gas before 1931 abandonment. It didn't lead to significant exploratory drilling at the time, but did show the potential of the Silurian-age horizon that would eventually dominate the county's oil and gas exploration and development history.

All but three of the 51 officially recorded oil and gas reservoirs found in St. Clair County to date have produced from within the Salina-Niagaran interval, the majority from the Niagaran and at least one from the Salina A-l Carbonate.

St. Clair owes its ranking of number six on the State's list of all-time gas production by county and its respectable rating as the twentieth most productive Michigan county in crude oil almost entirely to the Silurianaged Salina and Niagaran rock units.

The exceptions are two Dundee pools, Port Huron and a one-well find in Grant Township (T8N, R16E) (shut-in with no officially recorded production as of 1986), and the state's second Antrim Shale gas discovery at Algonac in 1947. Production of less than eight million cubic feet gas is recorded for the two-well Algonac Antrim field, with its 300-foot pay plugged and abandoned in 1951.

Antrim gas has proven to be more a nuisance than a valuable commodity in St. Clair County, with numerous reports in the Port Huron area of small eruptions and blowouts occurring when gas from the shallow horizon (which lacks an effective caprock near the edge of the Michigan Basin) has become trapped below surface by man-made obstructions such as basement foundations and large, paved parking lots.

It would be five years after the discovery of Antrim gas in St. Clair, a quarter-century after the Diamond Crystal Salt find and 64 years after the Port Huron discovery though, before perhaps the single most important development in the county's "modern" petroleum history was to take place.

Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Company, credited with the State's first truly commercial Salina-Niagaran-age oil or gas discovery in 1935 at Howell in Livingston County, drilled a test well in Section 31 of Casco Township (T4N, R15E) in the summer of 1952, reportedly based on geophysical surveys of the area.

The geophysical tool in use in that day was the gravimeter, not the seismograph that became the primary method of finding Niagaran reefs in the late 1960s and 1970s. Official state records list discovery of the Boyd Field as an oil reservoir in 1958, but it was Panhandle's Ringel #1 (CN SE, Sec 31, Casco Township), a 15 million cubic foot psr day gas discovery, that first penetrated the large Boyd reef in '52.

According to a 1963 publication compiled by the late Garland D. Ells, former State Geologist with the Geo Survey, it wasn't until 1958 that the Ringel well and another discovery to the northeast (in the Peters reef), lost the distinction of being "onewell" gas fields and became full-fledged oil and gas pools through drilling of additional development wells near the two finds.

Boyd had not been developed sooner because current spacing rules at the time called for drilling gas wells on 160-acre units, spacing which pushed the first Boyd offset off the approximately 300-foot high productive Niagaran reef structure. Once oil production was also established, development was carried out on 40-acre units, with Boyd supporting 49 wells and Peters 89.

More than 60 wells were still active and producing at the end of 1987 in the Boyd- Peters complex, with their combined output accounting for more than 43 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of the county's gas production total of approximately 180 Bcf through 1987 and more than eight million of approximately 19.5 million barrels oil produced in all St. Clair County Fields.

Other reefs were to produce more oil or gas than either Boyd or Peters individually, but the pair of nearby giants set the standard in the area as prolific producers of both oil and gas.

All Niagaran discoveries recorded in St. Clair until 1964 were based on either gravity surveys, subsurface methods or non-technical exploration techniques, according to state records, with the first seismic find not occurring until 1965, when seismograph surveying was credited with finding the Columbus, Sec. 23 reef. Section 23, Columbus Township, T5N, R15E.

The biggest and most prolific reef reservoirs had been plucked by explorationists prior to the popularization of seismic, but many of the same problems that still plague modern reef hunters (variations in thickness of the overlying glacial drift prime among them) also hindered the early prospectors in their search.

Despite the relatively low success ratio that has characterized Niagaran exploration in general throughout Michigan, the shallow pay depths of the Salina-Niagaran interval (generally 2,200 to 2,900 feet) in St. Clair and the promise of potentially prolific oil and gas production led to the area's extensive development long before producing reefs were found in large numbers along the present northern or south-central reef fairways.

Biggest oil producer among the St. Clair reefs has been Columbus, Sec. 3, just edging out Peters and Peters, East (5.9 million barrels) with nearly 6.8 million barrels produced through 1987. Four fields have produced more than 20 Bcf gas, led by Belle River Mills with 24.5 Bcf; Peters/Peters, East, 23.6 Bcf, Capac, 21.3 Bcf and Boyd, 20.1 Bcf.

Largest single reef developments in terms of number of producing wells drilled have been the huge Capac reef with 98 wells, followed by Peters with 89, Boyd's 49 and 47 in Belle River Mills. Highest number of currently active producing oil or gas wells in one field as of December 1987 was Peters with 44.

One of the most colorfully named Niagaran reservoirs in St. Clair's history would have to be one officially recorded as Columbus, North, but unofficially dubbed "Tiger" after its 1968 discovery, in honor of the Detroit Tigers exciting seven-game World Series triumph over the St. Louis Cardinals in major league baseball.

At least 10 largely depleted Niagaran pools in St. Clair County have proven that there is life after commercial production, serving as natural gas storage reservoirs that allow gas utilities to stockpile gas produced in summer months for sales in colder months when demand is much higher.

St. Clair's approximately 150 Bcf combined storage capacity is the highest for any county in Michigan, whose total storage capacity of more than one trillion cubic feet gas leads the nation. The Belle River Mills Field, which produced more than 24 million cubic feet gas in just four years between 1961 discovery and conversion to gas storage in 1965, boasts 54 Bcf storage capacity, tying it with the Taggart Gas Storage reservoir in Mecosta and Montcalm Counties as the state's largest.

First reef to be converted for storage was one of the earliest discovered, the 15-well Ira Field, with storage operations beginning in 1961. Most of the remaining conversions took place in the decades of the 1970s, with the most recent being Capac, the second largest in the county at 30 Bcf capacity.

A proposed Michigan Consolidated Gas Company pipeline project would link Michigan's network of natural gas transmission and distribution lines and storage fields with pipelines in Canada via an underground crossing of the St. Clair River at Belle River Mills. Final approval by federal agencies was still pending at press time, but the project is ready to go according to Mich Con and should provide natural gas producers and purchasers greater flexibility in marketing of gas produced in Michigan.

St. Clair County is also home to three liquified petroleum gas (LPG) storage reservoirs, created by the solution mining of salt formations within the Salina A-2 Evaporite and B Evaporite intervals. One of the three, the Consumers Power Company reservoir in Marysville, is being operated as St. Clair Underground Storage at the site of Consumer's experimental Synthetic Natural Gas Plant, which produced gas from light hydrocarbon liquids through a reforming technique there from 1973 until being mothballed in 1979.

The operation is now a major natural gas liquids storage and distribution facility, with the original storage capacity of 1.8 million barrels expanded to five million barrels in 1986.

What lies ahead in St. Clair County's petroleum future? The next several months should give an indication if the Ordovician Trenton/Black River potential shown by the Gunner Energy well (which reportedly had flowed at rates up to 40 barrels per hour oil) will be commercial in nature or just another disappointing flash-in-the pan, experienced in Michigan numerous times since discovery and development of the Albion-Scipio Trend.

At least two tests, believed to have been developed originally as Niagaran prospects, then modified to take a deeper look into the Trenton and Black River after reports of the St. Clair Township strike, are currently awaiting permit issuance and the drill bit in the immediate vicinity. Results of those tests and full details on the Gunner well will be anxiously awaited by industry.

The St. Clair County well location map on page 25 clearly shows that outside of the big Capac pool and the concentration of shallower Devonian drilling near Port Huron, the vast majority of exploratory and development drilling in St. Clair has been in its southern regions.

The possibility that all the productive reefs may not have been found in that area is certain to attract continued drilling, a gas discovery was drilled in Section 29 of St. Clair Township (T5N-R16E) as recently as 1987 by Pangborn Exploration. More exploration may be in store for the sparsely drilled northern portion of the county, where wildcats in Greenwood Township (T8N, R15E) near the so-called Sanilac Fault have encountered non-commercial oil shows in several zones, including the Devonian Antrim Shale and Richfield, Niagaran and Ordovician Prairie du Chien.

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