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Back to the Future: Chaparral hopes to recover 77 million barrels of oil from one of Oklahoma's oldest oil fields

Oklahoma City-based Chaparral Energy is working to boost production from one of the oldest oil fields in Oklahoma in a move that could cause an economic impact of $11 billion to Osage County and provide the Osage Nation with $1.2 billion in royalty payments over the next 30 years.
by Adam Wilmoth Modified: June 25, 2013 at 11:28 pm •  Published: June 25, 2013

In the rolling hills of northeastern Oklahoma, a group of Oklahoma City oilmen is hoping to follow in the footsteps of the country's oil leaders, reawakening one of the state's oldest oil fields.

If all goes as planned, Oklahoma City-based Chaparral Energy's effort to redevelop the North Burbank field could create up to $11 billion in economic activity in Osage County over the next 30 years and employ 110 people in the area.

“To think that Chaparral could be involved in a program of this size in such a historic field is almost beyond words,” Chaparral CEO Mark Fischer said. “It's something that is really tremendous and something I was glad we could see through fruition and get up and running.”

While the field is good news for Chaparral, it also stands to benefit Osage County and the Osage Nation, which owns mineral rights throughout the area.

The Osage Nation could receive as much as $1.2 billion in royalty payments over the next three decades, according to Chaparral projections.

“We're very excited about this project,” said Andrew Yates, chairman of the Osage Minerals Council. “As royalty owners, anything that's good for the oil company is great for us. We're extremely happy and hope for the best. This is a win-win deal for us. It's our oil, and they're producing it. The more they produce, the better for us.”

The North Burbank field is one of the oldest and richest oil fields in Oklahoma.

First drilled in 1920, the field is where Frank Phillips and his Phillips Petroleum Corp. made their fortune. The field also was home to the predecessors of Conoco, Texaco, Gulf Oil and many others.

At its peak in the mid-1920s, the area produced more than 70,000 barrels per day from more than 1,800 wells.

Production slipped to about 4,000 barrels per day in the late 1950s before Phillips launched an aggressive waterflooding project that boosted production back to about 20,000 barrels per day.

Also known as secondary development, waterflooding involves pumping large amounts of water into one portion of an oil field and pumping the water and oil out of another portion of the oil field. In most cases, the produced water is then reinjected to continue the process.

Today, the field produces about 1,500 barrels per day, but Chaparral expects its enhanced oil recovery project to boost production back to more than 12,000 barrels per day.

“This field is what made Frank Phillips and the Osage people who they are,” Yates said. “It made Phillips one of the biggest oil companies in the world and the Osages one of the richest people in the world at one time. Starting over with a new project like this, I'm just looking to the future and hoping for the best.”

How it works

Primary conventional oil production involves drilling into a layer of relatively soft rock that absorbs oil like a sponge. The process generally recovers about 15 percent of the oil contained in the reservoir.

Secondary processes such as waterflooding typically recover an additional 15 percent. After most oil field operations are completed, about 70 percent of the original oil is still trapped in the ground.

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by Adam Wilmoth
Energy Editor
Adam Wilmoth returned to The Oklahoman as energy editor in 2012 after working for four years in public relations. He previously spent seven years as a business reporter at The Oklahoman, including five years covering the state's energy sector....
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