I have a buddy who worked for Mitchell from the mid 1980's until recently. This is her story...
"Back then, we were producing from the Bend Conglomerate in Wise County. We had several shows in the Barnett when we drilled to test Ellenberger sinkholes, which we thought might contain reservoir grade sediments in the lows".
"The area manager was Willy Clampett. He was an engineer. He got caught "not having sex" with one of the techs, and it was about the time he suggested we try to frac the Barnett Shale because he thought it was a 'Company Maker'. The geologists, who did not care much for the engineers and Clampett in particular, jeered this idea, claiming he was trying to avoid a sexual harassment lawsuit by diverting them with 'company maker' and 'Barnett Shale' talk. I mean, it had never been done anywhere! We all knew that shales don't produce! Nearly every engineer was behind him, though, claiming the Barnett was the Next Big Thing".
"Ol' Willy... he was a piece of work. He could drink beer with the best of 'em. A hell of a guy to party with on a friday afternoon! I always wondered what his wife Mallory thought about all this. She was an engineer as well, although she didn't work for Mitchell at the time. The HR group looked into the allegations, but ol' Mallory stood by him, and when he took early retirement as Manager, the company hired Mallory as staff engineer. At the same time, they promoted a geologist, Jorge Arbusto, to Area Manager. His nickname, of course, was Are-BUST-o, and Jorge was firmly against spending ANY money on the Barnett. He changed his mind, though, when the Twins 9-11a well had a blow out in the lower Bend, just above the Barnett. Maybe this really WAS a company maker! Jorge figured he had nothing to lose, he had ALL the engineers on record supporting drilling and frac'ing the Barnett. His special projects group had seismic and geochem that they said looked like this could be the big play... that the gas was being sourced by the Barnett..."
"Jorge shopped his deal... BP bit and bought a quarter. Total, Elf Aquitaine, and Yukos turned him down flat. Strangely, PolOG, the Polish national oil company, bought a 2% interest. The Swiss rep, Hans Onn, claimed that there was NO gas in the Barnett, but what the hell do the Swiss know about oil and gas? In his own shop, the overwhelming majority of engineers supported chasing the Barnett. Arbusto made a big speech where he said "This is a huge play. It will not be easy. it will not be immediate. We will have to drill a lot of holes." Everyone applauded. That is, until the first well went down. There were a lot of problems with that first one. The polymer gel frac did not show encouraging results. Not a dry hole, per se, but certainly not economic."
""Arbusto lied!", grumbled a few engineers. "The damns special projects group cherry picked their data", said a few others. A report was dug up that questioned the delivery of natural gas from the Barnett, and it turned out that Arbusto and the senior geologists had seen it before they drilled and frac'ed that first well. The dang landmen started spreading rumors all over the place. Not a day went by when there wasn't some landman asking a geologist about "how come you didn't act on that report when cosnidering drilling and frac'ing that well? The shareholders want to know!"
Pretty soon, nearly ALL the engineers were grumbling about how they were misled. "Those damn geologists ALWAYS lie". "There is no evidence that the gas is Barnett gas", they yelled. "Why are we frac'ing Barnett when we KNOW the gas is from the Bend Conglomerate? There is no LINK between Bend gas and so-called Barnett gas," "Arbusto Lies, Dollars Fly" became a popular engineering mantra. Strangely, these were the same people who supported frac'ing the Barnett only a few years before when Clampett was Area Mannager.
"Out of the Barnett Now!" they cried. "One again, the geologists have driven us into a quagmire of uneconomic wells", said another. When asked if Mitchell was better off having tried to frac the Barnett than not, the engineers said "but... but... Arbusto Lied! We are far WORSE off had we never drilled or frac'ed. Had an engineer been Manager, this would never had happened. No more frac fluid for gas!" ... it was nearly political, with all the slogans flying. To make things worse, the wellsite had to have a reporting geologist AND engineer. No one knew what to believe. The engineer would make her morning report.
"No shows to report per se, but only a terribly bad hole where the pipe stuck several times with NO timeframe for finishing and an increasingly disgruntled drill crew... a quagmire of a well", stated the site engineer to the company every day.
"Several drill breaks and encouraging gas kicks, any one of which could make a well, but none quite good enough to test", said the site geologist.
The engineers decided to elect as their spokesman an engineer who felt that ALL drilling was too risky, and that the best way to preserve value was to quit drilling. Dr. Harold Deaf. Of course he had a PhD, huh? "No more drilling in Wise County!" he cried to the roaring approval of the staff engineers. "Merge with Shell" cried some engineers. "They are a lot smarter than us"!
"Well, you know the rest of the story. We drilled over a hundred uneconomic wells before we figured out to make a Barnett well economic... now everyone and their brother claims that THEY were the ones to figure it out. How many companies do YOU know that would drill a hundred uneconomic wells trying to make a play work? Especially engineers?"
It made me wonder... these Shales of Mass Destruction... Who IS the next Mitchell? Who WILL drill the hundred wells in the West Texas Barnett? Or any of those shales we know are charged, but we don't yet know how to produce?