Destin Dome Has New Objectives

Will Jurassic Shed 'Dusty' Sobriquet?

The drill bit penetrates the reservoir, and the tests are run.

The result: Hydrocarbons are there all right -- just not in commercial quantities.

High expectations are dashed, and vast amounts of at-risk money are lost.

Maybe, just maybe there would be less hostility toward the industry that supplies the vital resources demanded by all if such not-uncommon E&P scenarios were better understood by the public-at-large.

Maybe.

Consider Destin Dome in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, a striking example of faded hopes and dreams and staggering sums of money risked and lost in the search for hydrocarbons. It has even been called "Dusty Dome" in impolite conversations about its past results.

Oh yes, there's also the issue of perhaps as much as three Tcf of dry, natural gas that may remain trapped in the depths of the structure forever.

The dome lies 25 miles south of Pensacola, Fla. The large, west-northwest trending anticlinal feature is more than 50 miles long and 20 miles wide and with a relief of 3,000 feet on Lower Cretaceous rocks.

Image Caption

Destin Dome

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The drill bit penetrates the reservoir, and the tests are run.

The result: Hydrocarbons are there all right -- just not in commercial quantities.

High expectations are dashed, and vast amounts of at-risk money are lost.

Maybe, just maybe there would be less hostility toward the industry that supplies the vital resources demanded by all if such not-uncommon E&P scenarios were better understood by the public-at-large.

Maybe.

Consider Destin Dome in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, a striking example of faded hopes and dreams and staggering sums of money risked and lost in the search for hydrocarbons. It has even been called "Dusty Dome" in impolite conversations about its past results.

Oh yes, there's also the issue of perhaps as much as three Tcf of dry, natural gas that may remain trapped in the depths of the structure forever.

The dome lies 25 miles south of Pensacola, Fla. The large, west-northwest trending anticlinal feature is more than 50 miles long and 20 miles wide and with a relief of 3,000 feet on Lower Cretaceous rocks.

It apparently is the result of a salt swell that was uplifted during the Late Cretaceous and early Cenozoic, according to an article in the AAPG BULLETIN (1997: Ball, Martin and Taylor).

There's been a more-than-decade-long endeavor to develop the vast natural gas reserves discovered there, with nothing yet realized.

It's a political thing.

Chevron acquired leases at Destin Dome in 1984, before #41 Bush (President Geoge H.) imposed leasing moratoria off much of the Florida coast, according to MMS spokesperson A.B. Wade.

The initial hydrocarbon discovery on the structure occurred in 1987 on Chevron's Block 56 leaseholding. In accordance with the Coastal Zone Management Act, Chevron submitted an exploration plan to both the MMS and the state of Florida, seeking approval to proceed with drilling operations.

The plan was rejected by Florida, but the denial was overruled by the U.S. Commerce Department. After delineating the lease, Chevron submitted a development plan in 1996 and Florida responded with a resounding 'No!' -- so Chevron found itself once again in the halls of Commerce, where the issue remains unresolved today, after more than five years.

On July 24, 2000, according to the MMS eastern Gulf of Mexico review data, Chevron and partners filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government for denying the companies "timely and fair review" of plans and permits and an appeal concerned with the Destin Dome 56 Unit.

An MMS source noted that Chevron is seeking to recoup both the money already spent and the potential money to be realized on a find that large. Block 56 was leased in 1984 by Conoco, Chevron and Murphy Oil at a cost of $1.6 million.

The natural gas prize long sought by Chevron et al is thought to be harbored within the Jurassic Norphlet formation at depths greater than 20,000 feet.

The Infamous Failure

Destin Dome emitted a different kind of siren's song in the early days of Gulf exploration, when industry was looking at shallower potential prior to the big Norphlet play activity that began close to shore and eventually migrated offshore to the structure.

"There was a big lease sale in the early '70s," said Layton Steward, "and everybody was bidding on it."

Steward, an AAPG member, now retired from the helm of LL&E, was offshore manager for Shell at the time. The objectives then were primarily for Cretaceous reservoirs, said consulting geophysicist Mike Forrest, another Shell hand during that period.

The sale occurred about six years after Shell developed bright spot technology, according to Steward, who noted the bright spot concept originated with Forrest (May 2000 EXPLORER).

"We couldn't see any bright spots, so we used the technology in reverse to modify our bids," Steward said, "and bid only on one tract mainly to be sure we were represented on it."

He noted that natural gas wasn't worth much then, so Shell went after a tract downdip from the crest hoping to find an oil leg instead of gas.

"This was a huge-but-late structure geologically, and it had us worried a bit relative to the migration and entrapment of hydrocarbons on it," Steward said.

"Exxon and Champlin pretty much bought the whole thing," he added, "and a bunch of the Champlin guys, including the senior-most executives, were fired because they so overbid the sale.

"They may have just assumed it was a big ol' anticline full of hydrocarbons."

Exxon drilled a well at Destin Dome Block 162 in 1974, kicking off the first exploratory drilling activity in the eastern GOM. Two years and 15 dry holes later, exploration came to a halt, according to MMS data. Three lease sales were held in the area during the '80s, when industry interest was rekindled.

The proposed highly-controversial Lease Sale 181 will be the first in the eastern GOM since 1988.

Following months of mud-slinging rhetoric and more emanating from the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) citizenry in Florida, their elected officials and others, the initial sale area of 5.9 million acres has been reduced dramatically to 1.5 million acres, all of it at least 100 miles from the Florida coast.

Florida's neighbors are not too happy over the results of the Sunshine State's fight to keep offshore drilling at such great distances from its condo-blighted, yet so-called pristine beaches.

U.S. Representative Sonny Callahan, R-Ala., chairman of the House Energy and Water Development Subcommittee expressed his anger in a unique way. He added language to a House spending bill that could halt construction of a major new natural gas pipeline running from Alabama to Florida that would enable Floridians to reap the benefit of production from its neighbor's backyard.

The proposed sale, which will be the eleventh sale on the OCS in the eastern GOM, is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 5.

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