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Geological Survey of Kansas (1896)

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Chapter XII--Oil and Gas in Kansas (Preliminary)

by Erasmus Haworth

History of Development Geographic Extent of Oil and Gas
Geology of Oil and Gas Relation of Depth to Production
Is the Mississippian Series Oil or Gas Producing? The Relation of Oil and Gas Production to Anticlinals and Synclinals
Physical and Chemical Properties of Kansas Oil and Gas Origin of Kansas Oil and Gas
Probable Extent of Productive Territory Probable Future of Oil and Gas in Kansas

History of Development

The history of the discovery and development of oil and gas in Kansas may be divided into three parts: Part first, dealing with those indications which led up to the further development; part second, with what may be termed the first stage of development; and part third, the recent period of development, which continues to the present time.

First--In a number of different places in the state the earliest settlers learned from Indians that "oil springs" existed. Some of them were counted of wonderful efficacy by the Indians, and were regularly visited by them for the purpose of obtaining material to be used by the medicine men in their various forms of "practice." They were principally located in Miami and Wyandotte counties, and possibly some were known outside. The first settlers naturally became much interested in such occurrences, particularly as this was a period during which the development of oil in the Pennsylvania region was progressing so rapidly. Wells were drilled in the vicinity of Wyandotte which furnished considerable quantities of gas, a product at that time almost entirely unknown in America. As early as 1860 Mr. G. W. Brown, of Paola, began prospecting for oil, but the work was abandoned on account of the political difficulties which soon arose. In the vicinity of Mound City a few wells were drilled about the same time, each of which produced a small quantity of both oil and gas, but nothing considered of any special importance. In the early days after the war the citizens of, Paola, principally through the efforts of Hon. W. R. Wagstaff, W. T. Shively, and others, engaged the services of Prof. G. C. Swallow, then State Geologist for Kansas, to make a survey of Miami county with special reference to the probability of finding oil. His report, a pamphlet of 24 printed pages, was full of encouragement, as may be shown by the following short quotation: "The facts seem sufficient to convince anyone familiar with indications of the development of petroleum in the productive regions of the country that it exists in large quantities in this county." With such encouragement as this, companies were formed and considerable prospecting done in the environs of Paola, but with indifferent success.

The surface indications of petroleum were too wide-spread in character to be confined to the limits of the counties named. As far south as Cherokee county considerable attention was given to the subject by the early settlers immediately after the close of the war. The prominence of the indications in the western part of the county may be judged from the fact that a small stream was named "Tar creek," and the current belief was that should prospecting be done vast quantities of oil would be obtained.

It will thus be seen that from the earliest days of Kansas history there has been a popular and wide-spread faith in the ultimate development of a great oil and gas industry in the eastern part of the state.

Second--The second period of our history may include the time from about 1871 or 1872 to 1890. During this period a great deal of drilling was done in different places, principally by local companies and by drillers of limited experience. Paola was looked upon as the central portion of the oil and gas territory. In 1882 prospecting was again renewed in Miami county, and gas was found in the wells which were drilled about seven miles to the northeast of Paola, a locality to which the prospector had been drawn on account of the traces of oil which were found on the spring waters at that particular place. The result of this prospecting was that sufficient quantities of gas were found to be piped to the city and introduced as a source of light and heat in the residence and business houses of Paola. Prospecting was continued all around the city, east, north, and west, so that practically as large a supply of gas as could be consumed was obtained and has been maintained to the present time. Some of the wells produce considerable quantities of oil. One of these, for example, yielded 15 barrels per day for quite a while.

Drilling was prosecuted in Wyandotte county quite irregularly during this second period. Sometimes it was interrupted by litigation; sometimes by discouragement from partial failures in obtaining gas; and sometimes from other causes.

In 1873 a well was drilled at Iola, the "Acres well," which produced sufficient gas to attract considerable attention and which was doubtless a factor in encouraging prospecting in other localities. The prospecting was rapidly extended to the different counties throughout the whole southeastern part of the state, so that up to 1890 no less than a dozen towns and cities were principally or wholly supplied with both light and fuel for all domestic purposes.

Third--The third period of history begins with the introduction of eastern money and eastern companies into our oil and gas territory. Having been attracted by the fair success obtained by local companies, as above outlined, it was an easy matter for those who began it to induce companies of experience and means to come to Kansas and engage in prospecting for both oil and gas. Of these the company which has done the most to date is the Guffey & Galey Company, of Pittsburg, which makes its headquarters at Neodesha, in Wilson county, and the Forest Oil Company, which has recently bought the Guffey & Galey interests. They have leased large territories and have drilled many wells, scattered over a territory bounded by Chautauqua county on the southwest and Miami county on the northeast, and have obtained sufficient success to justify them in making further improvements, which seem to indicate that the oil and gas industry in Kansas is a permanent matter. Next in importance of work already performed is the Palmer Oil Company, of Cleveland, Ohio, which has likewise obtained leases over large areas and has begun prospecting in a vigorous manner. Other eastern companies have also entered the field and have secured leases on a large number of farms, and are making arrangements to begin development at an early day. The territory which has been most productive during the recent period is located further to the southwest, with Neodesha and Thayer in its center.

The present condition of the industry may be summarized as follows: Natural gas is now obtained in sufficient quantities to be used wholly or partially for lights and fuel in the following cities: Wyandotte, Paola, Osawatomie, Fulton, Iola, Humboldt, Cherryvale, Neodesha, Independence, Coffeyville; and has been obtained in more limited quantities at Fort Scott, Girard, Pittsburgh, and other places. Oil is now being obtained in considerable quantities at Peru, Neodesha, Thayer, Independence, Osawatomie, and in lesser quantities at some other places. It is difficult to state the amount of oil obtained. The development is still in the prospecting stage, and in many places connections have not been made between wells and the central tanks, so that the flow is suppressed. Quite flattering results have been obtained from the oil wells at Neodesha by the prospecting done by the Forest Oil Company since it bought interests here, so that at this date, February, 1896, there is more cause for encouragement than ever before.

Geographic Extent

The area throughout which oil and gas has been found in greater or less quantities covers about 8,500 square miles, and is located in the southeast part of the state. It may be approximately bounded as follows: From Kansas City draw a line to Lawrence a distance of 40 miles; from Lawrence pass a sinuous line to Sedan, in Chautauqua county. The portion of the state included between these two lines may all be considered as oil and gas territory, except a small area in the extreme southeastern part covered by the Cherokee shales. This is not more than 500 square miles in extent, and may be approximately limited by passing a line from the southwest part of Cherokee county to the middle of the east side of Crawford county, about 10 miles north of Pittsburgh.

There is not a single county within the limits above mentioned which has not produced either oil or gas, or both. To the northwest of the area a few wells have been drilled, with indifferent success, but prospecting has not been carried to a sufficiently great extent to warrant anyone in deciding that gas could not be obtained over a much larger area to the northwest.

Geology of Oil and Gas

Thus far in the history of development the total production of both oil and gas has come from the Coal Measure formations. A number of wells have been sunk through these into the Mississippian limestone below, but in no instance have any valuable results been obtained, Both shale and sandstone are productive, the latter being most abundantly so; in numerous cases, however, good flows of gas have been obtained from the shale. It is common here as well as elsewhere to speak of the oil sands or gas sands. From the conditions of stratification already explained in the previous chapters of this Report it will be seen that the occurrence of sandstone is somewhat irregular. Perhaps no well can be drilled which will not pass through an abundance of sandstone so far as quantity of that material is concerned.

The sands are located in each of the great shale beds from the Cherokee shales upward. Those in the Cherokee shales are the most productive. In fact, it may well be stated that in the southeastern area nine-tenths of all the oil and gas have been obtained from the sandstones within the Cherokee shales, yet it is also true that each individual shale bed above this has produced one or the other of those materials. The gas wells at Independence, east of the Verdigris river, for example, obtained all of their oil above the Oswego limestone. The drill penetrated the Cherokee shales, from which their supply of gas is obtained. At Cherryvale gas is largely obtained from the Cherokee shales, but a few of their most productive wells stopped within the upper shale beds. At Coffeyville the gas is obtained in some instances from Cherokee shales, and in others from the shale beds above. At Neodesha, Thayer, and Iola, the Cherokee shales have been reached in almost every instance before any considerable flow of gas was obtained. The strong wells at Neodesha, and the recent very remarkable well drilled at Iola by the Palmer Oil Company, a well producing seven million cubic feet of gas per day, all were sunk nearly to the base of the Cherokee shales before the heavy flows were obtained. At Paola the productive wells are quite shallow generally, but, as will be seen by referring to plate II, the Cherokee shales are wonderfully thickened here, so that the wells reached their upper surface. This is also true at Osawatomie, at which place the wells usually were, drilled to a depth of from 400 to 900 feet. A good illustration of the production of gas by one of the thin shale seams was met with during the drilling at Fulton. One of the wells was started at a place where there was an unusually heavy covering of soil and clay. At a depth of about 40 feet below the surface the thin shale bed lying between the two Oswego limestones was reached, when quite a perceptible flow of gas was obtained.

It will thus be seen that both oil and gas are obtained from included sandstone, or the shale itself, within each of the shale beds from the Mississippian upward to the Lane shales. It is unnecessary here to speak of the geologic positions, the thickness, or the character of these different shale beds, as such have been given in previous chapters.

Relation of Depth to Production

It will be seen from the foregoing that the depth at which oil and gas are obtained is dependent upon a number of factors. Where a productive shale bed comes to the surface the leakage has doubtless exhausted the supply long ago, but where it is sufficiently protected to prevent leakage the production will be shallower as the covering is lighter. The relatively barren area in Cherokee county presumably has been eroded to such an extent that the necessary covering has been removed from the Cherokee shales, so that whatever quantity of either oil or gas may have existed there at one time has been principally dissipated through surface leakages. This idea is strengthened by the frequent discovery of small quantities of gas in the ordinary prospecting for coal, and further, by the indications of oil springs along Tar creek, and other places. This principle may be extended to other portions of the country. Every shale bed comes to the surface along its eastern limits, and consequently is deprived of a protective covering over portions of its area. No instance is known of any considerable quantities of gas being found in those localities, yet numerous cases have been reported of variable amounts of gas escaping from ordinary wells dug to depths of from 30 to 80 feet. Such escapes represent the natural leakage that is taking place over all surfaces which are not protected sufficiently from above. The question, therefore, of the depth at which gas may be reached is one which can be answered only conditionally for any particular locality. It will depend upon the depth below the surface at which gas-producing shale beds may be reached. A correct idea of this may be gained by a study of the different charts accompanying this Report, which accurately represent the underground positions of the various shale beds in the southeast part of the state.

Another factor, however, should be here considered: the great prevalence of salt water throughout the whole gas area may so seriously interfere with the flow of gas that a well which otherwise would be productive is almost entirely barren. When a well has reached a depth of a thousand feet, should gas be obtained in considerable quantities, the presence of large quantities of water would render the well useless unless the gas pressure were sufficient to lift the column of water the full height of the depth of the well. It is therefore quite probable that in many cases could a well be carried to a little greater depth after salt water is reached paying quantities of gas could be obtained were it not for the interference of the salt water. But few paying wells are known which are more than 900 feet deep, while many good wells are less than 600 feet.

Is the Mississippian Series Oil or Gas Producing?

Little encouragement can be found for penetrating the Mississippian formation in search of oil or gas, although they pass westward under the Coal Measures. The more prominent reasons for this belief may be summarized as follows: First, the extensive mining operations in southwest Missouri and southeast Kansas have failed to develop even traces of oil or gas, excepting small quantities of an almost solid bitumen which occasionally is found in little pockets and crevices in the ore-bearing rocks. Had the Kansas hydrocarbons been generated below this horizon and driven through it to their present resting-place it seems exceedingly probable that greater indications of it would be met with in the mining operations. Second, at different places, notably Pittsburgh and Girard, wells have been drilled several hundred feet below the base of the Cherokee shales searching for artesian water. At Pittsburgh five such wells have been drilled, the deepest of which went over 1,000 feet below the Cherokee shales. Neither salt water, oil nor gas was found in any of them, the water obtained being used as a supply for the city. Pittsburgh is situated near the top of an underground ridge in the surface of the Mississippian rocks, which probably is an anticlinal ridge. Should gas ever have passed from below upwards through this heavy limestone some of it would certainly have lodged beneath this anticlinal, and the Pittsburgh wells would have discovered it. The Girard well was similar, but taken to a less depth. It started in the soil covering the Oswego limestone and went 357 feet below the base of the Cherokee shales. It found considerable gas within the Cherokee shales but none below them.

This is a question of great practical importance. It is evident that if the oil and gas were generated within the Coal Measures the leakage where their covering is thin has been so great that nothing more than mere traces could be expected within them. Should they have come from below, however, there may be accumulations of them below the Mississippian limestone which could be obtained by deep drilling. For the reasons above given such prospecting should be discouraged.

The Relation of Oil and Gas Production to Anticlinals and Synclinals

The details of the exact number and location of the various anticlinals and synclinals in the oil and gas territory are so little known that it would be premature to draw any general conclusions at the present time regarding the relation of the flow of oil or gas to those structures. The general dip of all the formations is towards the west and northwest, but along with this there are many reversals of directions, and anticlinals and synclinals trending in different, directions. The indications are that such irregularities in the surface are too limited in extent and in angle of inclination to have any considerable influence on the accumulation of either oil or gas. If a given limestone has a slight irregularity of position due to the uneven surface of the ocean bottom on which it is deposited the formations beneath it might not partake of such irregularities. In such cases it is difficult to understand how its particular condition of dip would have any bearing on the accumulation of gas below it. As was pointed out in chapter IX, there is a total absence of conditions resulting from any very considerable orographic movements, and consequently a particular shale bed which is gas producing may have the stratifications within it entirely independent of the slight anticlinals and synclinals noticeable in the overlying limestone.

By way of observation it may be said, that so far as has been determined there is a lack of harmony in the results obtained on this subject. Cherryvale is located on a slight anticlinal ridge with an axis trending northwest and southeast which itself dips to the northwest. Whether this has any influence on the accumulation of gas at that place may well be doubted. At Neodesha all the strata seem to be dipping to the west about 17 feet to the mile. It has not been ascertained whether or not there is here a slight anticlinal with axis pointing towards the northwest. Paola is in one of the greatest synclinal troughs there is in the state, yet large quantities of gas have been obtained from this synclinal trough.

It would therefore seem that, so far as our present knowledge of the subject would indicate, there is little if any relation between the location of anticlinals and synclinals and the accumulation of either oil or gas.

Physical and Chemical Properties

Until quite recently we have had few data regarding the physical and chemical properties of the oils and gases of Kansas. The lubricating oils sold from Paola were partially examined and were found to possess superior proprieties for lubricants. Other companies have had samples tested at the refineries, and during the past year Prof. E. H. S. Bailey, of the chemical department of the State University, has made a large number of careful examinations of both oil and gas. His paper is now passing through the press, and will soon appear in the report of the Kansas State Board of Agriculture. Through his kindness the following extracts have been made from his manuscript. The specific gravity of the oil was taken; then it was subjected to fractional distillations and the flash point and gravity for each distillate was determined. In the following tables the left-hand column gives the range of temperature in the centigrade or Celsius scale at which the distillate was obtained, the second column the flash point of same, the third column the specific gravity, and the fourth column the amount distilled expressed in cubic centimeters. A glance at this column will show at what temperatures the larger portion of the oil was distilled, and therefore the general character of the oil.

No. 1. Main Well at Neodesha. G. = 0.835.
Temperature C Flash point C Specific
40 deg. to 110 deg. Below 26 deg. 0.7058 61 c.c.
110 deg. to 150 deg. Below 26 deg. 0.7314 82 c.c.
150 deg. to 200 deg. Below 26 deg. 0.7778 1.07 c.c.
200 deg. to 250 deg. Below 76 deg. 0.8112 77 c.c.
250 deg. to 300 deg. 91 deg. 0.8377 101 c.c.
300 deg. Above 100 deg. 0.8691 215 c.c.

About 14 per cent of the original volume remained undistilled at the highest temperature to which it could be carried by a gas flame and in a gas flask.

No. 2. Kimball Well No. 2, Neodesha. G. = 0.835.
Temperature C Flash point C Specific
70 deg. to 110 deg. Below 30 deg. 0.7002 118 c.c.
110 deg. to 150 deg. Below 30 deg. 0.7417 178 c.c.
150 deg. to 200 deg. Below 30 deg. 0.7793 157 c.c.
200 deg. to 250 deg. 57 deg. 0.8099 153 c.c.
250 deg. to 300 deg. Above 95 deg. 0.8343 210 c.c.
300 deg. Above 95 deg. 0.8739 500 c.c.

About 12 per cent of the original amount remained undistilled.

No. 8. Hopkins Well, five miles northwest of Neodesha. G. = nearly 1.

Oil very heavy and hard to distill, less than half passing off below 300 degrees.

No. 4. Ordway Well, Thayer. G. = 0.849.
Temperature C Flash point C Specific
70 deg. to 110 deg. Below 27 deg. 0.7124 42 c.c.
110 deg. to 150 deg. Below 27 deg. 0.7374 82 c.c.
150 deg. to 200 deg. Below 27 deg. 0.7742 70 c.c.
200 deg. to 250 deg. 69.5 deg. 0.8046 115 c.c.
250 deg. to 300 deg. Above 95 deg. 0.8341 121 c.c.
300 deg. Above 95 deg. 0.8663 250 c.c.

About 12 per cent of the original amount did not distill.

These four wells may be looked upon as fairly expressive of the physical properties of Kansas oils. Possibly extremes may be found outside these limits, but not to any considerable extent.

The analyses of the gases showed that we have natural gas of most excellent quality when compared with the eastern gas. The following table gives the percentage composition of gas from six different localities, so that we may conclude they well represent the gas of the state:

Components of gas
expressed in per cents
Paola Osawatomie Iola Cherryvale Coffeyville Independence
Hydrogen, H 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Oxygen, O 0.45 Trace. 0.45 0.22 0.12 Trace.
Nitrogen, N 2.34 0.60 7.76 5.94 2.21 3.28
Carbon-monoxide, CO 1.57 1.33 1.23 1.16 0.91 0.33
Carbon-dioxide, CO2 0.33 0.22 0.90 0.22 0.00 0.44
Ethylene series, C2H4, etc. 0.11 0.22 0.00 0.00 0.35 0.67
Marsh gas, CH4 95.20 97.63 89.66 92.46 96.41 95.28

The slight differences in above gases amount to but little. So far as they go, however, it will be seen that the Osawatomie gas has the largest per cent of marsh gas, which is the principal combustible material, and the smallest per cent of nitrogen, an inert substance, and therefore would be called the best gas.

Origin of Kansas Oil and Gas

The evidence available from the various conditions under which they now exist points towards an organic origin for the Kansas oil and gas. Their intimate association with the shales, which are so rich in organic matter, would also imply that they are principally derived from vegetation, for our Coal Measure shales are poor in both vertebrate and invertebrate fossils, which indicates that animal life was not very abundant during the shale-forming periods of Coal Measure time. The bituminous character of the shales is therefore principally, or almost entirely, due to the presence of vegetable matter. The absence of oil in the Mississippian series, as already explained in this chapter, would strongly favor the idea that the Coal Measure shales are the formations in which the oil and gas were generated.

If the oil is obtained from the shales it would consequently be of vegetable rather than of animal origin. The chemical composition of the gas, as just given, also indicates the vegetable origin of the gas; for were it of animal origin it probably would have more nitrogen. Also the oil has an absence of that peculiar fetid odor some oils have which is usually regarded as indicative of animal origin.

Its presence in the sandstone beds would by no means indicate that the sandstone formations were the sources from which it was generated but rather that the sandstones act as receptacles for the gas after it is generated. Their porous condition make them, in reality, great underground cavities in which any liquid or gaseous substance may find a resting-place.

Probable Extent of Productive Territory

The area over which oil or gas or both have already been obtained was outlined in the first pages of this chapter. It might be well to say a few words regarding the probability of the productive territory being extended to the west. It should be clearly understood at the outset that any remarks that may be made on this subject are only tentative. If our great shale beds pass to the west a considerable distance beyond the limits of the deep wells already bored there is no reason for doubting their bituminous nature. All that we know regarding the conditions of deposition would imply that a considerable amount of organic matter was mixed with them at the time of their formation much farther to the west. This is believed because, as far west as prospecting has been carried, the carbonaceous nature of the shales seems to be maintained with no indication of any considerable decrease. If such is the case, we cannot know of any reason why both oil and gas may not have been produced in the depths of the earth many miles west of the present known limit.

But this should not be used as a basis for hopes of a great productiveness very much farther west. A difficulty is encountered which probably will increase rapidly towards the west. I refer to the almost universal presence of salt water. Naturally with the dip of our strata being as it is, the productive shales and sandstone lie much deeper to the west, and the difficulty produced by the salt water will rapidly increase. The mere fact that both gas and oil are lighter than water is of little avail in such case. The minute pores in the sandstone and the shales through which the gas must pass will be effectually stopped by the great pressure of the water.

Few questions are of more immediate importance to the western cities, like Wichita and Hutchinson, than the question of the probability of obtaining oil or gas by boring. Could a few wells be sunk in these localities to the base of the Cherokee shales much light would be thrown upon the question thereby, and if accurate records were kept and placed in the hands of a competent geologist for comparison with the data contained in this Report a much more valuable estimate could be made of the probabilities in the case. Such wells would have to be sunk somewhere from 2,000 to 3,000 feet deep and would therefore be very expensive, with the chances very great of the salt water preventing any valuable results, even though the gas and oil might possibly exist.

Probable Future of Oil and Gas in Kansas

With the favorable results obtained by the prospectors, especially during the last two years, we have good reason for hoping that the oil and gas industry in Kansas will ultimately assume considerable proportions, even compared with the same industry in eastern states. Our productive territory is large, and one or the other of the products seems to be available at almost, every place within it where prospecting has been carried to any considerable extent. It is evident that the oil and gas are more uniformly disseminated in Kansas than in any other territory yet developed in America. This augurs well for the future. Prospecting will not be so uncertain as in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where productive areas have such sharp limitations. With our present knowledge of the case, it would seem that there is considerable encouragement for any village or city within the productive area to drill wells expecting to obtain gas in sufficient quantity to be of great importance for domestic purposes. It is not altogether a vain hope, it would seem, to look forward to a time in the near future when all southeastern Kansas outside of the Cherokee shales area will be almost entirely supplied with light and fuel from the oil and gas lying beneath their doors.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Geology
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