Call it a tale of two entities.
On the one hand you have Richard Beardsley, who grew up in Oil
City and Titusville, Pa., surrounded by the history and lore of
the oil business.
It's not surprising that he has devoted his career to unraveling
the mysteries hidden deep within the oldest producing basin in the
On the other hand, there's the Appalachian Basin, which, despite
over 100 years of activity, remains largely unexplored.
Explorer and field. You don't need binoculars to see the link
Beardsley for most of his career has been working to prove the
tremendous potential in the basin's deeper reservoirs — and recent
discoveries in the Trenton-Black River formations are long-awaited
pay-offs for years of study.
who received AAPG's inaugural Explorer's Award in Houston at the
recent annual meeting, presented a paper at the meeting titled "The
Appalachian Basin, The Most Drilled and Least Explored."
When he talked, he knew what he was talking about.
After graduating from Penn State University in 1969, Beardsley
first went to work for Chevron Geophysical in Houston — and quickly
discovered he missed the mountains.
"I spent all the time I could stand in Houston," he recalled.
"I told my wife that as soon as we had $2,000 in the bank we were
True to his word, he headed back to the Appalachians in 1972,
believing he had a job waiting for him with Quaker State in Pennsylvania.
Unfortunately, things were slow at that time, and no hiring was
being done there.
Fortunately for Beardsley, however, Columbia Gas was hiring, and
he landed a job in Charleston, W.Va., where he remained until his
retirement last March. He's now vice president of geology and geophysics
for Triana Energy, a company founded exclusively to pursue new exploration
targets in the Appalachian Basin.
Successful? He was responsible for identifying each of the first
four major Trenton-Black River discoveries made in recent years
in Appalachia — and his persistence and insistence that the Appalachian
Basin holds potentially prolific fields in deeper reservoirs has
spurred a revival, attracting new investors and reviving exploration
activity throughout the region.
"Since early exploration in the 1850s in Titusville … most activity
in the basin has been of a development nature, spurred at times
by serendipitous wildcat discoveries," Beardsley said.
Studious approaches to exploration in the basin remained "rather
erratic" through the mid-1990s, he said, and a systematic approach
to the overall configuration of the basin was needed.
"For future exploration to succeed (here), an integrated model
incorporating all of the available geologic and geophysical data
must be interpreted to allow for rational deep exploration in the
basin," he said.
"Gas has been proven to exist in the deep formations of the basin,"
he said, "and rationale must be developed to exploit those hydrocarbon
An Eye-Opening Experience
It was as a young geologist in 1974 — "much influenced by my
peers," he said — when Beardsley first decided the Appalachian
Basin's future was tied irrevocably to future reserves in the Lower
"The main part of these reserves were suspected to be in the Middle
to Lower Ordovician Trenton and Black River formations, whose historic
significance can't be overstated," he said.
The Lima Indiana and Albion-Scipio fields in Indiana, Ohio and
Michigan had, in addition to being the start of Standard Oil in
the late 1800s, already produced in excess of 600 billion cubic
feet of gas and 600 million barrels of oil.
"The 200 million barrels of oil and 200 billion cubic feet of
gas from Albion Scipio had been produced from a dolomitized epigenetic
feature whose surface area only encompassed 6,400 acres of real
estate," he said. "But, since it was rumored that no seismic character
existed over these two prolific fields, I was at a loss, since my
technical background was in geophysics."
The Lima Indiana Field in Ohio and Indiana was the first Trenton-Black
River discovery, but the zone is only 1,400 feet deep there. The
trend is about 260 miles long and varies in width from less than
one mile in parts of Ohio to greater than 50 miles in central Indiana.
About 100,000 wells have been drilled in the trend.
The giant Albion Scipio Field discovery in the late 1950s in southern
Michigan was an eye-opener, producing from the Trenton-Black River
formations at about 4,000 feet. The excitement was touched off when
a well was shut in after encountering lost circulation just below
the top of the Trenton. Craters began to form around the location,
so the well was allowed to flow unrestricted for 25 hours.
According to reports, the well produced an estimated 15 million
cubic feet of gas and 4,000 barrels of oil a day.
Beardsley became intrigued with the deeper potential of the Appalachian
Basin early in his career with Columbia.
"We knew the Trenton-Black River was present throughout the Appalachian
Basin, and it was the same age dolomites as the prolific Ellenburger
in west Texas, the Red River in the Williston Basin, the Lima Indiana
Field and the Albion-Scipio," he said. "We just had to solve the
geologic puzzle in the basin."
Beardsley had the luxury of surface exposure of most of the stratigraphic
section. The Middle Ordovician outcrops on the basin's west side
in the Adirondacks is almost identical to outcrops around Lexington,
Ky., with the same fossil assemblage and same depositional environment.
The basin's biggest exploration effort was in the 1960s and 1970s,
when Exxon arrived looking for elephants at 19,000 feet. The firm
ran an extensive program of dynamite seismic lines and drilled five
wells in West Virginia and several in Kentucky.
"They didn't have the success they were hoping for," Beardsley
said, "although one well in Jackson County (West Virginia) was productive."
Extremely high pressures coupled with a bad cement job created
too many problems, however, and the well was abandoned.
New York State Natural also had a deep drilling program in New
York in the 1970s, and some of those wells provided good structural
control for basin geologic studies. That well data was important
because the geologic complexity of the Appalachian Basin severely
hampered seismic quality at depth.
Columbia had drilled some deeper wells in the basin's shallower
portion in north central Ohio and in Kentucky that encountered large
flows of gas.
(One well drilled in the 1930s in Roane County, West Virginia,
went to 9,700 feet. When it hit the top of the Black River formation,
gas flows ignited and burned the rig down.)
At one time Columbia held the record for the deepest cable tool
well, according to Beardsley.
"Production wasn't established, and we were just going well to
well to see if we could establish additional gas flows," he said.
"We didn't have any way to determine estimated ultimate recovery
because we didn't have any production — and the logs in these fractured
sections were of poor quality and not suited for evaluation."
In the final throes of Columbia's Steuben County (New York) Devonian
reef play, Beardsley mapped a pronounced graben at what he assumed
to be the Knox or Little Falls Unconformity interval, beneath a
relatively undisturbed Devonian/Silurian section.
Subsequent interval evaluations showed the mapped reflections
to be much too shallow to reflect the configuration of the Knox
Since the reflections were indicated to be in the Middle Ordovician
carbonates, the only available solutions were modeled to be dissolution
and collapse, or epigenetic or diagenetic alteration of the fabric
of the native limestone.
Beardsley relied on information from Trenton-Black River fields
in Ontario, Canada, where the first Trenton-Black River field was
discovered in 1917 — just across Lake Erie from the northern margins
of the Lima Indiana Field.
(Activity in Ontario has continued intermittently through today.
Ordovician pools currently account for about 75 percent of Ontario's
annual oil production.)
"We contracted with scientists at the University of Texas to generate
a model of what the reservoir would look like if we shot seismic
— then we actually acquired seismic data in the area using the
parameters developed from the model," he said.
"We had almost a perfect match between the model and the seismic
Based on this dolomitized model and the subsequent seismic, in
1976 Columbia selected a well location flanking a basement high
on a horst block within a 5,200-foot-wide graben system.
The results were less than satisfactory, with six feet of dolomite
in the 1,100-foot-thick Trenton-Black River section drilled with
a show of 77 thousand cubic feet of gas a day, and salt water from
Two years later, another feature was drilled in the central part
of a 2,000-foot wide graben five and a half miles north of the first
well. This well had a 400-foot thick section of dolomite, but since
only marginal shows of 12.3 thousand cubic feet per day were recovered,
no stimulation was attempted and the first well was plugged and
"In 1985, with courage and ignorance again on my side, and after
having passed on a vice president slot at Columbia Natural Gas to
get the prospect drilled again, the 1980 Kossow well was offset
400 feet to the north by the Evangelos well," Beardsley said.
Although the well only gauged 517 thousand cubic feet a day, on
initial stimulation the well open flowed 8.3 million cubic feet
daily from five completed intervals in the dolomitized Black River
"Subsequent completion attempts damaged the well," he said, "but
I began to feel this was what I was born for."
At that time, the potential play covered the basin's entire flank
from western Ohio to the Adirondack dome. Two additional wells were
drilled 15 miles from the Evangelos and initial results were very
encouraging geologically, although thermal maturities were anomalously
The main problem with the central portion of the play was secondary
dead hydrocarbon cement or bitumen in the created pore spaces. Low
porosities and permeabilities due to cementation by this dead oil
were not economically important due to the extreme thickness of
the potential reservoir and the intensity of fracturing in the reservoir.
Beardsley said total gross pay interval was estimated to be 500
to 1,000 feet, with effective porosity of 1.2 percent and permeability
ranging from .002 to eight millidarcies in core records. Recovery
was estimated to be about 90 percent in this fractured reservoir,
and each well was estimated to be capable of draining 250 to 320
No significant contaminants were present in the gas stream.
The gas was suspected to be richer because of lower thermal maturation
both to the east and west of the area drilled, with good oil potential
in the play's Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky portions.
Finger Lakes Activity
The Finger Lakes (New York) portion of the play at that time had
13 seismically defined prospects over 50 miles for a total of 650
potential well locations. Volumetric reserves per well were on the
order of 20 billion cubic feet of gas, which equated at the time
to Columbia's throughput for 13 years and 26 times the reserve base
from 6,000 wells.
Four or five additional prospects were being defined each year,
and if successful depletion rates of 50 billion cubic feet of gas
per year could be attained it would take Columbia until 2267 to
deplete the reservoirs, he said.
"We had hundreds of locations in New York and were picking up
more and more acreage as we identified additional prospects. Unfortunately,
Columbia declared bankruptcy in 1990 and surrendered most of the
acreage in the play because of cost constraints."
However, 10 years after its Glodes Corners Field discovery and
the subsequent bankruptcy, it was still Columbia that proved the
Trenton-Black River could be a major producer in the Appalachian
Basin. Many of the leases Columbia had to relinquish were picked
up by other companies, and today are productive from the Trenton-Black
"In many cases companies didn't do any exploration," he said,
"they just went back into the courthouses and found leases we had
recorded back in the 1980s."
Following Columbia's emergence from bankruptcy, Beardsley again
touted the basin's deeper Trenton-Black River potential, and in
the mid-1990s the firm began a dedicated exploration effort in the
Finger Lakes region, touching off the basin's biggest exploration
play in over 100 years.
Today several new Trenton-Black River fields have been discovered
in New York, and in 1999 Columbia expanded its production with a
discovery in Roane County, West Virginia.
Two of the wells drilled in West Virginia were the largest wells
in the northeast United States in terms of open flows, proving there
is a great deal of running room in the deeper Trenton-Black River.
Beardsley said there is another 10,000 feet of sediment that has
been virtually untouched below the Lower Ordovician Trenton-Black
"Some of the biggest gas fields in Ontario produce from a basal
clastic section just beneath the Ordovician in the Shadow Lake area,"
he said. "Today's seismic is very good quality and shows multiple
prospects in many different depositional environments that are just
waiting to be tested."
Beardsley is humbled by the impact of this deeper potential in
the Appalachian Basin.
"These discoveries will not only have an impact on Columbia and
the oil and gas community," he said, "but will be important to the