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March 6, 2013

Company to search for oil in Cass County

A company is planning to add parts of Cass County to its search for oil across northern Indiana.

CountryMark, an Indianapolis-based agricultural cooperative with an oil refinery in Mount Vernon, is conducting the studies.

Rick Sumner, vice president of Exploration at CountryMark, said the company is looking for oil all over northern Indiana, from Michigan to Indianapolis and from Ohio to Lafayette. Part of this area includes the Trenton Oil Field, located in east central Indiana. Sumner said the field, part of which used to spread underneath Peru, Walton and Delphi, was discovered in the late 1800s and at the time was the largest oil field in the U.S.

“The production records are sort of incomplete from the old days, as you might imagine, but it has produced several hundred million barrels of oil,” Sumner said. “It’s been largely plugged out since the 1920s, but of course technology has made tremendous strides in the last hundred years and we think we might be able to come up there with new technology and get more oil out of the ground.”

Jeff Smith, superintendent of the Cass County Highway Department, said CountryMark will be utilizing county roads near Deer Creek when performing the search.

Sumner said the first step in the process is to conduct a seismic reflection survey, which CountryMark has contracted Bay Geophysical, Inc., out of Traverse City, Mich., to do.

Lee Kurtzweil, president of Bay Geophysical, said a seismic reflection survey starts by laying small devices called geophone censors along the shoulders of miles of road. Then, a vibrator truck drives down the road, past the censors, shaking noninvasive frequencies through the ground. Another vehicle called a recording truck takes the data provided by the frequencies and the censors and places it on a media device like a DVD or magnetic tape, which is then given to a seismic data processing center.

“They apply all the math,” Kurtzweil said of the employees at the seismic data processing center, adding that they compile all the information to create a kind of underground map. “That’s what’s given to the professional staff at CountryMark and they evaluate the subsurface to see if there’s any reasonable formation.”

Kurtzweil said this process, which causes no damage to roads and little to no traffic delays, will start in Cass County within the next month or so.

If any oil is found after the seismic reflection survey, Sumner said the next step is to acquire oil and gas leases from landowners whose land holds the oil. Landowners would be paid for allowing drilling to occur on their land and are also entitled by law to 12.5 percent of whatever proceeds result from oil production, Sumner said.

CountryMark recently discovered oil in eastern Vigo County in February of 2011. According to Belinda Puetz, brand manager at CountryMark, the well is currently producing about 1,000 barrels of oil a day.

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or mitchell.kirk@pharostribune.com.

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