2007 – Outstanding Explorer Award

Award: Outstanding Explorer

Awardees: Walter K. Arbuckle, Elliott A. Riggs

Publication: The Outcrop, November 2007, p. 19

The Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists is pleased to honor two of its longtime members, Walt Arbuckle and Elliott Riggs, with the 2007 Outstanding Explorer Award. Their experience in oil and gas exploration began in the 1950s and 60s. Walt was a principle in The Kimbark Company and during his early years was responsible for a number of discoveries in eastern Colorado and Kansas. Included among them was the Plum Bush Field in the D-J Basin. In the late 1970s he and Elliott formed a partnership and have worked together since as Fossil Associates.

In 1983, Consolidated Natural Gas contracted Fossil Associates to establish an acreage position and prospects in the Rocky Mountains. The first well drilled by Fossil for CNG was the discovery well at Enigma Field. This was the first significant Tensleep field discovery in the Big Horn Basin in 25 years. The prospect was largely Walt’s idea, though Elliott, and their other partner at the time, Roy Dubitzky, supported him, as did some excellent seismic interpretation by CNG. They like to say that the discovery was the result of utilizing what may be the oil industry’s most neglected source of data; the literature.

One of their characteristics is that they will pursue an idea or concept until it is tested. Elliott had been convinced, largely through years of well site work, that clay-filled sands were potentially productive, but were being damaged by drilling and completion procedures. In 1980, with this in mind, Fossil negotiated a farmout from El Paso Natural Gas on a large unit on the Pinedale Anticline that was about to be contracted. This farmout was turned to American Hunter, who drilled three noncommercial wells, but saved the EPNG unit. In addition, early in the contract period with CNG, Fossil purchased a large block of acreage along the southeast plunge of Pinedale and several thousand acres in what is now Jonah Field. Ultimately, Ultra Petroleum developed this acreage. In the early 1990s, after the CNG contract period had expired, Fossil, and their then partner Holmes Melish, purchased additional acreage off the crest of the anticline. Fossil had the foresight to make major contributions in the acquisition and maintenance of large, inexpensive acreage blocks, long before Pinedale and Jonah were hot plays. All of this acreage is now productive in one of the largest gas fields in the United States.

In the 1990s, Fossil Associates acquired acreage along the northeast flank of the Gypsum Valley Anticline in the Paradox fold belt. This play was based on the idea that additional gas could be trapped against the salt. The presence of shows in several wells, the recent construction of a 20-inch pipeline, and the use of a modern drilling mud system enhanced the conceptual idea. This prospect, which was in an area containing seven dry holes, was marketed over 30 times. Ultimately Burlington Resources drilled and completed the initial well in several zones with an IP of 8.1 MMCFGD in what has become the Double Eagle Unit. This field has an estimated recoverable reserve of 60 MMCFG and has initiated other plays along the salt anticline trend.

Therefore, the RMAG is pleased to recognize Walt and Elliott for their foresight and persistence in the development of the Pinedale Field, and discoveries at Double Eagle and Enigma fields, for their willingness to look first for reasons to test an idea, not for reasons for rejection, and especially for their long and successful careers in oil and gas exploration.