(May 22, 2004) -- Most people don't know that Nevada is an oil-producing state. It's not on the scale of Alaska and Texas -- yet. But some independent wildcatters think we could be in the big league someday soon.
Recent discoveries suggest the existence of huge oil deposits in central Nevada. Now the problem is finding it.
Compared to other parts of the country, Nevada and the Great Basin are among the least-explored areas when it comes to the search for oil deposits. Fewer than 1,000 exploratory holes have been punched in the entire state. This despite the fact that there are active, producing wells here.
For those who don't think of Nevada as an oil-producing state, consider what happened on this 280-acre piece of land in Railroad Valley. It's a field known as Grant's Canyon, and it has produced more than 20 million barrels of oil since 1984, making it, for a time, the single most productive oil field in the continental United States.
Major oil companies once had control of the entirety of Railroad Valley, but they didn't find oil, so they moved on. It was their own fault.
"Gulf picked up the whole valley. They drilled one every six miles. That's too far apart to explore for oil," said John Stout, BLM oil inspector.
But smaller independent companies tried a different tact. They drilled their hole much closer together, and they hit, again and again.
The black stuff puddled at the bottom of this well shows it is still producing years later. How could a piece of land less than 300 acres produce so much oil?
"The oil seems to be coming from someplace deeper, up into these formations," said oil explorer Jim Franklin. "If you did the calculations on 20 million barrels of oil, there's no way it could fit into 200 feet of sand. It simply won't fit. So it must be coming from someplace deeper."
Stout agrees there must be a motherlode somewhere out there that is feeding the assorted wells in Railroad Valley.
"These traps the oil migrated to, the oil is coming from somewhere. People agree we need some deep drilling in this state," Stout said.
Franklin and his geologists are convinced that the same geological conditions that made Railroad Valley a bonanza exist in other neighboring valleys. Satellite imagery tends to support their claim. So does the existence of hydrocarbon-rich deposits of shale that they've found in this valley, where they've leased 20,000 acres from the BLM. They plan to drill their wells much closer together, and near the fault lines that act as a natural trap for oil underground.
"We have to have a multi-well program. Single-well programs don't work well in Nevada," Franklin said.
Franklin's group has also hooked up with an existing well near Gabbs. The same high-tech exploration techniques suggests a gargantuan oil field may be hiding under the ground in the western part of the state.
Like so many oil wildcatters, this operator ran out of money before he could strike it rich. Soon he could have partners.
"The Gabbs one is a structure 12 miles in length by 5 miles in width. It's absolutely huge," Franklin said.
It's something on the order of what you would see in Iran or Iraq. Promising, yes, but they haven't found it yet. Oil exploration is a risky business, which means people should be careful before they invest their hard earned money.
To contact George Knapp, click here.