Geologic Record
Kansas Geological Survey
Fall 1995
Vol. 1.2

Survey Research Aids Oil Exploration


It is crucial that we continue to produce new knowledge and exploration techniques, and that we disseminate that information



Survey Research

From the Director–page 2

Acting Chief Named–page 2

Geoscience Education–page 2

New Publications–page 3

A Place To Visit–page 4





Finding oil is seldom easy. And in Kansas, where most of the major oil fields have been discovered, it requires imagination and information. Wichita geologist Paul Gerlach had both.

In the early 1990s, starting with data generated by a study at the Kansas Geological Survey, Gerlach developed five new wells in southwestern Kansas that have produced more than 250,000 barrels of oil.

The research that Gerlach used began in 1980, when Survey geologist Lynn Watney made a detailed study of the deposition of the Lansing-Kansas City Groups, formations deposited during the Pennsylvanian Period of geologic history, about 300 million years ago. Watney looked specifically at a rock layer called the Swope Limestone, already well known as an important source of oil in many Kansas fields. Watney published his work in Kansas Geological Survey Bulletin 220, Cyclic Sedimentation of the Lansing-Kansas City Groups in Northwestern Kansas and Southwestern Nebraska—A Guide for Petroleum Exploration, and in a guidebook from the Kansas Geological Society.

Gerlach read those publications and attended a short course on petroleum-resource characterization that Watney taught in Wichita in 1986. He then acquired additional geologic data to produce a detailed map of an area in southwestern Kansas that he thought might be especially promising.

“Lynn’s information was a beginning point,” said Gerlach. “I built on that basic work to produce a high-quality prospect.”

That prospect was in southern Seward County, east of Liberal, in a producing area originally discovered in 1953 and known as the Blue Bell Field. In 1991, Gerlach used his newly developed information to drill a well that initially produced 180 barrels of oil per day. Its production has since stabilized at about 100 barrels per day. Gerlach later drilled four more wells, and estimates that each of the five wells has produced approximately 50,000 barrels of oil. He believes they will eventually produce as much as 80,000 barrels of oil.

“That oil would probably still be in the ground if it hadn’t been for the combined efforts of an explorationist and scientists at the Survey,” said Survey director Lee Gerhard. “We provided the initial regional information, and Paul Gerlach added detailed information to work up the prospect. That’s exactly how the process ought to proceed. It is crucial that we continue to produce new knowledge and exploration techniques, and that we disseminate that information, to aid in the production of oil in the state. Paul Gerlach’s wells in Seward County are proof that the process works.”

Location of Blue Bell Field, Watney's study area, and the Lansing–Kansas City outcrop area. Modified from Watney, 1980.
Blue Bell field in Seward County.
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