THE LOST BATTLES OF THE QUEST FOR OIL AND GAS IN RURAL VERMONT

Less than 100 miles across at its widest, Vermont lies between the shores of the Connecticut River on its eastern border with New Hampshire and Lake Champlain and the Hudson River Valley on its western border with New York. The forest-covered mountains that run the length of Vermont, from Canada in the north to the hills of Massachusetts in the south, occupy most of the state and have Vermont's greatest wind resources.
Vermont has a rich history of treasure seeking. From the annoyingly mysterious Captain Mallett supposedly burying his gold chest near Coats Island on Malletts Bay, Spanish prospectors finding silver deep within our granite mountains, or the suspected Celtic copper seekers and the strange stone domes left behind from their visits.
Vermont’s ultra-deep oil and gas deposits reside in the Lake Champlain basin’s Potsdam Sandstone Formation and related carbonate rocks including the subsurface rocks of the Utica Shale. These various rock groups, of which many contain fossil marine lifeforms, formed approximately 480 million years ago, during the late Cambrian and early Ordovician periods.
As far as Vermont oil and gas deposits are concerned, State Geologist Laurence Becker has publicly stated that he doesn’t think any oil survived the extreme pressures and heat of mountain-building activity here millions of years ago. On the contrary, he has noted that natural gas likely exists in large quantities. Interestingly, state legislators have never shown much interest in developing these local resources.
Nothing was really ever acted upon, until St. Albans businessman Douglass Kelley became interested, and launched Vermont’s first oil boom. Because natural gas is often discovered before oil, Kelley assumed he was sitting on top of a black gold mine.
Kelley banded together a group of associates, and started the now defunct Maquam Gas and Oil Company. On April 19th, 1957, Isadore Yandow’s St. Albans farm became the first place in Vermont to be drilled for oil. Soon, neighboring landowners were swayed by dreams of becoming rich and the rest of the state dreamed of the prosperity that the oil boom had brought other places in the country. Kelley even brought school buses full of children and tourists out to rural St. Albans to see the rig. Everyone seemed to be interested.
But after months of drilling to a depth of 4,500 feet, labor teams working intensely around the clock, and striking rocks, methane, water and everything but oil, operations finally stopped and the prospects were abandoned. Because Vermont was new to the oil culture, maybe they didn’t realize that often only one out of several wells that would be constructed would ever actually strike oil – and Kelley only financed and constructed a single well.
A few years later, two more wells were financed and constructed in Malletts Bay, but after reaching 10,000 feet, they ran out of money and left empty handed as well.
Between 1962 and 1963, Belgian oil company Petrofina came to Vermont and run an operation on a parcel of farmland in Alburgh. From the accounts of the operation, things were looking good – the company had drilled to a depth of over a mile with a 160 feet high derrick. This was also the first dig in Vermont to use rotary equipment and extensive further studies were conducted as the beginning cuts were made. They even went as far as doing sonic and gamma-ray tests on the topography. It seems this was incredibly and painstakingly well researched and meticulously planned. The crew was said to have kept saying “It’s looking good, it’s looking good!” the entire time. But something happened. They just stopped, left, and gave no explanation. To this day, that remains a mystery. And just like that, Vermont’s first and only oil boom came to an end with little commotion.
All of the wells just mentioned may have indicated natural gas was present in the deep rocks, but nothing was ever produced. Only six exploration wells were drilled in Vermont between 1957 and 1984. The last well, Burnor #1 was drilled to 6,968 ft in Fairfield/Franklin County.
Today, almost no visible evidence remains of this short lived time in Vermont history, except for that single abandoned derrick in rural St. Albans, rusting at the edge of a sprawling cornfield. The wooden blocks at the base of the derrick have rotted away long ago, slowly making the derrick tip to about 30 degrees, eventually coming to rest on the well head.
In May 2012 Vermont became the first state in the USA to ban fracking for oil and gas.
Vermont with its Green Mountains, the flamboyant colors of its autumn leaves, the abundant snow and charming small towns, has everything to stay for a long time a place where life is pleasant.
(Source: Vermont DRC/Wikipedia/USGS/Ballotpedia/EIA/The Sun/Odscure Vermont – Image: 1957 oil well in St. Albans Vermont/The Sun)

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