Doug Davis is seeing more ups than downs in the Kansas oil patch, despite the withdrawal of some major exploration companies.
Davis, 66, has been a petroleum geologist since 1974 and has ridden the industry’s roller coaster. At the moment, times are terrific in the industry – although less so for gas producers – with high oil prices and a startling revival of production nationally and in Kansas.
Davis just finished presiding over a big regional gathering of his fellow geologists in Wichita, where they talked about technical topics in the field.
A widower, he is engaged to be married.
Q. Given the limited success in Kansas of most of the big companies, what kind of lessons can we draw about drilling in the Mississippian Lime?
A. It’s still a real profitable play for the companies in Wichita and the companies that are drilling here. The difference is that drilling a vertical well is one-sixth the cost of a horizontal well. … When all is said and done, it’s $3 million. We can make a profit on it because we can drill vertically for $500,000.
Q. Do you think there will ever be horizontal drilling beyond a few southern Kansas counties?
A. Yeah, there is a little bit of success in Reno for a company out of Tulsa, Unit Petroleum. And there is still drilling in some places where they find a zone they think will work. … But until you get the geology correct and know what you are drilling for, you’re going to have problems. The companies that came in here thought they could come in and drill anywhere and find oil. … In some places they were drilling for the Mississippian where there was no Mississippian. That’s how stupid they did things.
Q. Are we done with the boom in Kansas drilling?
A. For horizontal, we are done. But the boom in still going on, and the production from vertical drilling is still going up because of it. And as production goes up, we make money, the state makes money and that makes the governor happy. As long as we still have $92 (a barrel) oil, I’m going to drill as much as I can drill.
Q. Are we seeing more students getting into geology?
A. Definitely. (Wichita State University) has something like 120 undergraduates and something like 20 grad students. And up at (the University of Kansas), there are 150 grad students, and a huge number – 200 to 300 – undergrads. If you go to (the University of Oklahoma), it’s a monstrous number of students. I’m 66, and someday I’m going to die or stop doing this. The industry is going to need these new people.
Q. How likely is there oil under downtown Wichita?
A. Well, the indications are it was about a 15 percent chance, which is about average in Kansas, where 15 to 20 percent is normal for a good exploration program. … Haysville has a field discovered in the ’50s that made 6 million barrels. And then at the Derby Refinery at 21st Street they were drilling a disposal well and discovered a field that made 1 to 2 million barrels. You draw a line to Haysville, and that runs through downtown Wichita. There was a well drilled at this same convention in 1967 (in downtown Wichita), and results showed (the formation) was really high. That doesn’t mean there’s a reservoir there, but it could ... but, for right now, it’s on hold.