The first attempt to discover oil in what could be a vast petroleum basin beneath the northern Midwest has ended in failure, Texaco officials said today.
Wildcatters for Texaco drilled 11,300 feet deep from their rig in north central Kansas, a record depth for the state, without finding "any signs of commercial gas and oil," a company spokesman said from Houston today. "The well has been plugged and abandoned."
Drilling ended Dec. 26 and the rig has been dismantled for the winter, according to farmer Noel Poersch, upon whose favorite hill the prospecting site is located.
"That's the way these things go," Poersch said with an air of resignation. He and his neighbors, hard hit by the continued agricultural recession, had been hoping for a strike. "Sure, we sort of would have liked the added income."
The Texaco site is about 150 miles northwest of Kansas City, at the southern end of an unusual geological rift, or depression, that underlies a banana-shaped portion of the Midwest from Duluth, Minn., to Manhattan, Kan. Recent seismological surveys of the so-called "midcontinent gravity high" suggest the formation, created eons ago when North America began to split apart, could contain petroleum reserves equal to those beneath the North Sea.
Although Texaco drilling has ended, and no other wildcat wells are under way in the zone, oil industry interest in exploring the rift remains intense. "Lease-hounds" have been nailing down mineral rights across the region.
Even Wisconsin, shut out of the producers' category since the dawn of the petroleum age, is holding hearings next week to set environmental rules for drilling. A state official in Madison said "hundreds of thousands of acres" of northern Wisconsin timberland are under lease to major energy companies or their agents.
Texaco itself maintained a cautious attitude over the results of the Kansas drilling. Spokesman Philip Blackburn said the company regards the test well as "a tight hole," and would disclose no information about what it found. "Considerable work remains to be done on the geologic implications within the area" obtained from drill cores, he said. "I can't comment on the future."
But another company official asserted, "I guess we'll move along that fault-line and maybe drill in other areas. I assume we'll probably do some experimental drilling . . . we might take a look at the middle, or the northern end."
Said Carol Kindle Lee, a doctoral candidate in geology at Cornell University whose research helped spark the new interest in the Midwest rift, "I bet they've got lock boxes on those cores."
Like others familiar with the uncertainties of oil exploration, Lee said it would be unusual if Texaco struck oil with its first well. "Historically, the rule of thumb is that the third [company] in makes money."