Oil and gas exploration could pick up near Traverse City and Manistee this year. Late last year, a company based in Colorado called Wyotex Drilling Ventures applied for permits to drill five wells in Manistee and Grand Traverse Counties.
It’s a small sign of life for an industry that has been on the decline in northern Michigan. If approved, the wells will be drilled into a formation called the A-1 Carbonate. That layer of the earth has produced a modest amount of oil and gas in Michigan. It’s been drilled in various parts of the state for more than 30 years.
Bill Harrison is a geologist at Western Michigan University. He says there has not been much A-1 production near Manistee or Traverse City.
“None of the historic fields are in that area, so that would be a new exploration region,” says Harrison.
Hundreds of oil and gas wells were drilled in Manistee and Grand Traverse Counties in the 1970s and 1980s but those were for oil and gas deeper underground in a formation called the Niagaran Reef.
Harrison says the A-1 is right above that and rigs that drilled into the Niagaran went through the A-1, so it is a formation the industry knows something about.
“There’s an old adage that the easiest place to find oil is where somebody else has already found it,” he says.
Harrison says it is even possible that abandoned Niagaran wells could be reused for this new exploration.
The A-1 wells proposed by Wyotech will not be hydraulically fractured. That's the newer, and controversial, drilling method sometimes called “fracking.” Attempts to frack the A-1 were unsuccessful in 2012 and 2013.
The group Ban Michigan Fracking brought the first attention to the permit applications. It claims on its website that the A-1 wells might still be fracked. The group wants to ban fracking in Michigan along with the disposal of waste from the process.
Spokeswoman LuAnne Kosma says it’s beside the point whether these wells will be fracked or not.
“It’s the industrialization of our landscape, so I don’t think anybody should be happy with it,” she says.