Eastern Section Meeting

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Finding the Twelve Thousand “Lost Wells” in the Trenton Oil and Gas Field of Indiana


Indiana's first petroleum field, now known as the Trenton Field, produced more than a trillion cubic feet of gas and more than 105 million barrels of oil from Ordovician reservoirs, primarily between the years 1886 and 1915. The development history of the Trenton Field is difficult to reconstruct in detail because many records are incomplete and well location maps of different vintages conflict. By the end of 1916, the “Indiana field” was reported to contain 36,259 wells. Shortly thereafter, the name “Trenton field” began to be used in place of “Indiana field,” and by the 1950s, the name change was firmly established at the Indiana Geological Survey (IGS). In 1995, the Trenton Field was reported to have had 36,259 wells by the end of 1916, thus confirming equivalency of the names “Trenton field” and “Indiana field.” In 2001, a substantial number of petroleum well records had been populated in the IGS Petroleum Database Management System (PDMS), making possible a search for wells located in the Trenton Field. The search returned only about 24,000 results, roughly 12,000 wells less than previously reported. Our study is a comprehensive year-by-year literature review that traces the names of Indiana oil and gas fields from 1886 to 1930. “Indiana field” was found to have multiple meanings, the most significant being: 1) the oil and gas field in east-central Indiana that is now known as the Trenton Field, and 2) the oil and gas field that is made up of the entire state of Indiana. Careful reading of the source for the 36,259 well total makes it clear that “Indiana field” referred to the entire state rather than the area corresponding to today's Trenton Field. A more accurate Trenton Field well count awaits the conclusion of a larger study, currently in progress, that attempts to reconcile well location conflicts in the Trenton Field. This project is far enough along to foresee that the 12,000-plus discrepancy in the Trenton Field well count arises from two sources: 1) wells that were spotted on earlier maps that, for unknown reasons, were never carried forward on newer maps of the Trenton Field, and 2) wells drilled outside of the Trenton Field area that were miscounted as Trenton Field wells because of the “Indiana field” naming issue.