Friday, May 09, 2008

Early Northwest Louisiana Oil Exploration

When oil was discovered in northwest Louisiana, rolling hills, massive pines and a few small settlements dominated the landscape, farming and cattle the two major occupations. Some thirty years before, Army engineers had blasted and methodically dismantled the natural dam known as the Great Red River Raft that had raised area water levels for decades, perhaps centuries. What were left were shallow bayous, isolated ponds and Caddo Lake.

Caddo’s coffee-colored water was also shallow, no more than 20 feet at it’s deepest. Turtles and alligators populated the sprawling lake along with miles of impenetrable cane brakes and mazes of giant cypress trees with water-gorged trunks and branches draped with Spanish moss wafting in a damp breeze. And it was hot, temperatures rarely below 100 degrees in the summer and humidity through the roof. The shallow, often stagnant water bred mosquitoes, and many early inhabitants died of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.

Despite the hostile environment, something began drawing oil hunters to the region — news of oil seeps and gentle rolling topography that possibly signaled subsurface closure. These explorers, drawn by the lure of black gold, pooled their money and drilled a few exploratory wells. Believing correctly that oil existed far below the shallow depths of Caddo Lake, wooden pilings were driven in shallow water and platforms built on them. The explorers constructed drilling rigs on the platforms from native timber and began drilling in Caddo Lake. This was a first, Caddo Lake the birthplace of offshore drilling.

Like the gold rushes of California and Alaska, men and their families began pouring into the area, intent upon sharing in the prize. Boom towns sprang up — Oil City, Trees City, Vivian, Rodessa.
What explorers had discovered was the giant Sabine Uplift. This single subsurface feature underlies several Louisiana parishes, and even more Arkansas and Texas counties. It not only trapped millions of barrels of oil beneath it, but formed the stratigraphic barrier for the Woodbine Sandstone, the primary reservoir of the super giant East Texas Field.

Caddo Lake sits atop the Sabine Uplift. Even with thousands of wells already drilled in the region, the deepest horizons of this giant subsurface feature still remain mostly undrilled and unexplored. What are the ramifications of this little-known fact? Possibly several hundred million barrels of untapped oil that could ultimately help the U.S. ease its dependence on foreign oil.

No comments: