Appalachia Basin Is Still Intriguing

Beardsley Gets Explorer's Award

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 world.

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 that's coming.

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.

Beardsley, 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.

Getting Started

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 leaving."

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 provinces."

Image Caption

Mineralized fractures — note differential erosion, especially at knee area.
Photo courtesy of Kentucky Geological Survey, University of Kentucky

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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 world.

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 that's coming.

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.

Beardsley, 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.

Getting Started

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 leaving."

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 provinces."

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 Paleozoic section.

"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.

Looking Deeper

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 unconformity.

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 data."


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 the dolomite.

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 abandoned.

"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 zones.

"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 high.

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 acres.

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 River.

"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 River zones.

"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 entire nation."