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AAPG Rocky Mountain Section Meeting

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Exploration in Utah


Utah’s oil and gas exploration history extends back almost 130 years. In 1891, the Bamber and Millis 1 well in east-central Utah was drilled to a depth of 1000 ft at a cost of $4000—although a dry hole, it was the first well in Utah to specifically target hydrocarbons. That same year, natural gas was accidentally discovered in Farmington Bay on the eastern shore of Great Salt Lake during the drilling of a water well. Between 1895 and 1896, gas from several wells near this location was transported to Salt Lake City in a wooden pipe, marking Utah’s first use of local oil or gas. Wildcats drilled in the early part of the 20th century targeted large surface anticlines and areas with oil seeps. Discoveries included Rozel Point (1904) near the north arm of Great Salt Lake, Virgin (1907) west of Zion National Park, Mexican Hat (1908) near Monument Valley, and Cane Creek (1925) along the Colorado River between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in the northern Paradox fold and fault belt. These fields produced only small amounts of oil—Mexican Hat still pumps a few BOPD. In 1948, Utah’s first truly commercial oil well, Ashley Valley 1, was drilled in eastern Utah near Dinosaur National Monument (after 70+ years Ashley Valley field has produced over 21 MMBO and production continues to this day). Not long after, major discoveries opened the large basins where most of the drilling activities continue today: Roosevelt (now Bluebell) (1949) and Redwash (1951) fields in the Uinta Basin, and Boundary Butte (1948) and Greater Aneth (1956) fields in the Paradox Basin. Aneth is Utah’s largest oil field having cumulative production over 490 MMBO. The discovery of Pineview field in 1975 led to a series of major oil and gas finds in the Utah-Wyoming thrust belt during the late 1970s and early 1980s after years of drilling failures. Heavy oil was discovered in Great Salt Lake as part of a 15-well “offshore” drilling program from 1978 to 1981. The 2004 discovery of Covenant field in the central Utah thrust belt turned that region from one of speculation to proven potential. Utah has consistently ranked in the top 15 states in oil and gas production since the 1960s. In 2017, over 34 MMBO and 315 BCFG were produced from nearly 12,000 wells. The exploration efforts and successes of the past provide a great legacy for Utah’s current and future hydrocarbon potential.