Monday, May 12, 2008

Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

As a longtime geologist, I’ve heard many oil patch stories, some true, some likely false. Here is a story I heard about the discovery of the El Dorado Pool, the largest oil field in Kansas. Believe it if you will. I don’t know the truth, just the story.

As I’ve mentioned before, many of the early, giant oil fields were found by mapping formations at the surface, then using the surface geology to interpret what is happening in the subsurface. During the early days of Kansas oil exploration, citizens in the town of El Dorado, a small community in the south-central part of the state, hired a University of Kansas geology professor to do a geologic survey around their town. What he mapped using surface geology was a huge anticline.

Excited by the results of the study, residents of El Dorado pooled their money and drilled a deep well at the site proposed by the University of Kansas professor. The test well was drilled and, to the dismay of El Dorado citizens, was dry as a proverbial bone. They sold the leases for pennies on the dollar to Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company, the predecessor to Cities Service Oil Company. The Kansas professor, like so many would-be oil finders after him, became the reviled scapegoat.

ITIO had geologists of their own at the time and was unconvinced that the dry hole was a legitimate test of the huge surface feature. They risked their money, bought the leases and drilled a well of their own — the result the discovery well for the giant El Dorado Field.

The El Dorado Field is the largest oil field in the State of Kansas and has ultimately produced more than 40 million barrels of oil. To this day, the only dry hole in the field is the original well drilled there by the citizens of El Dorado and the hapless University of Kansas geologist.

What happened? — An extraordinary stroke of bad luck. The people of El Dorado drilled down a vertical fault plane — the only place they could have drilled and not hit a producer. Fact or fiction?

Like all history, I suspect, as my Grandmother used to say, that it lies somewhere between the Devil and the deep blue sea.

No comments: