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Thorough the Vagaries of Time: The Early History of the Trenton Field of Indiana Revealed


In 1886, natural gas was discovered in Indiana in what is now known as the Trenton Field, which covers some 305 square miles and portions of 28 counties. The state's first oil production also began in the Trenton Field in 1889. It has been estimated that this field has produced more than a trillion cubic feet of gas and more than 105 million barrels of oil from Ordovician reservoirs. However, many aspects of its development are clouded by a paucity of available well records, vagaries in the quality of reporting annual oil and gas activities (especially during the field's early years), and the passage of time.

Our study traces the history of Trenton Field development as revealed by information contained in the Annual Reports of the State Geologist, published by the Indiana Geological Survey (IGS) for most years from 1886 to 1917. Maps from these and other reports, plus unpublished maps in the IGS files, were used to resolve conflicts in well locations from different generations of maps. We have identified more than 8,000 well locations that were not previously shown on IGS published maps.

We analyzed the yearly reported number of completed oil wells in counties in the Trenton Field and determined that, whereas oil wells typically were counted, gas wells and dry holes were not spotted nor tallied comprehensively during the field's development. Also, while maps showing the regional outline of Trenton gas production may be useful for understanding the changes in the extent of the overall field development through time, there are no maps of that era that show individual gas well locations in the early Trenton Gas Field, except for a few local areas.