The American Shales

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Robert Kelly (Bob) Robinson called geologist Dick Findley a couple months after they completed Albin FLB 2-33 in Richland County, Montana, in 1996. The well had been drilled to Nisku and perforated in the middle Bakken as a bail-out. Findley says Robinson said, "This just isn't declining. Do you think we have someplace to develop this?" Mapping the formation, it appeared to be a porosity trend 40 miles long and 4.5 miles wide. Calling it "Sleeping Giant," Robinson and Findley partnered with Bobby Lyle's Lyco Energy Corp. and Halliburton, which tried fraced horizontals in the play. The field, Elm Coulee, which soon inspired attempts with fraced horizontals in the middle Bakken in North Dakota, made more than 125 million barrels of oil through 2012 and is still producing. Robinson, who passed away on April 10, 2004, is shown here with wife Madeline and sons Kelly and Kevin (at right). 

          (Photo courtesy of the Robinson family.)

Continental Resources Inc. chairman and chief executive Harold Hamm and landowner Robert Heuer at the monument in Divide County that marks Continental's Robert Heuer 1-17 re-entry, which came online on March 4, 2004, as the first fraced, horizontal Bakken producer in North Dakota. Initial flow was a poor 87 barrels a day but the well had been economic because, as a re-entry, it was relatively inexpensive. Jack Stark, Continental senior vice president, exploration, says that, more importantly, it confirmed "for us that we were leasing on an idea that had merit."
(Photo from

Harold Hamm, sixth from left, and fellow Continental Resources Inc. team members pose at the monument that marks the Robert Heuer 1-17 re-entry well it completed in the Bakken formation in 2004 with a fraced horizontal. Hamm says of the modern Bakken play, "There were times we were discouraged...(but) we felt like we were onto something. We felt like it was something huge."

           (Photo courtesy of Continental Resources Inc.)

Larry Nichols, chairman of Devon Energy Corp., and his father, the late John Nichols, in the Northeast Blanco Unit (NEBU) gas field in the San Juan Basin. Devon leased the unconventional-gas acreage in the 1980s, producing from the Fruitland coalbed. Upon that success, the small company grew over the years into the No. 1, independent, natural-gas producer in North America in 2002. Larry Nichols says of working the Fruitland in the shadow of major operator Amoco Corp., "they didn't have the power to stop us." The majors thought small, U.S. operators would have to go to them if they happened to find anything new in the U.S. after 1980 but "along came new technology."

       (Photo courtesy of Devon Energy Corp.)
Harold Korell, Southwestern Energy Corp. chairman and who was also chief executive at the time, christens the company's Desoto Drilling Inc. Rig #1 in December 2005 to drill the Fayetteville shale for it in north-central Arkansas. The company had to build some of the oilfield services and midstream infrastructure it needed to develop the play, far from where drilling had been done in the past. Richard Lane, executive vice president, E&P, at the time, says, "In Louisiana, Texas or Oklahoma, you could call somebody and get a frac job. Well (in central Arkansas), we couldn't."

   (Photo courtesy of Southwestern Energy Corp.)

Range Resources Corp. re-entered its vertical Renz 1 well in western Pennsylvania in October 2004 to complete it in the Marcellus shale, testing a theory that the long-known formation would economically produce natural gas if fraced with a Barnett-type completion recipe. In this, which is known as the "light-sand frac," mostly water and a small amount of sand and gel are applied to improve permeability. The frac crew is shown here, marking the well's completion.

(Photo courtesy of Range Resources Corp.)

The Renz 1 frac spread, October 2004, in the hills of western Pennsylvania. Bill Zagorski, an Appalachia-based Range Resources Corp. geologist, suggested that the Marcellus be tried with a Barnett type of completion. Jeff Ventura, president and chief executive officer, says, "I saw Bill's work. I thought, 'This Marcellus could build a company.'"

(Photo courtesy of Range Resources Corp.)

The Renz 1 wellsite as it appears since the well's completion. Upon hooking up a well into salesor after plugging a failed well
U.S. oil and gas producers restore the land with native grass and other indigenous plants. Range Resources Corp.'s Jeff Ventura and Bill Zagorski both grew up in western Pennsylvania and have family there. Ventura says, "After having explored all over the world and all over the U.S., the biggest discovery is just right back there at home."

(Photo courtesy of Range Resources Corp.)

Floyd Wilson, chairman and chief executive of Petrohawk Energy Corp. at the time, presenting in the IPAA's OGIS New York investment symposium in April 2008, four weeks after revealing the Haynesville-shale play. A land rush for leasehold had already begun. Petrohawk and Chesapeake Energy Corp. would take the bidding to more than $25,000 an acre by July "and without a single well producing from the Haynesville already on or around that lease," says Steve Herod, who ran the leasing program for Petrohawk. 

  (Photo courtesy of the Independent Petroleum Association of America.)
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