About SouthArk

Oil Development in South Arkansas, 1921-2001


By John G. Ragsdale

Edwin L. Drake is credited with drilling the first oil well near Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, and thus began the oil business in the United States. Major companies came into existence in the latter part of the nineteenth century, e.g., in 1870, John D. Rockefeller formed the Standard Oil Company. First uses of oil were for lubrication and heating, and then the crude became a source for gasoline as a fuel. With Henry Ford and his first automobile in 1896, gasoline became and remains a major part of the oil industry.
In the southern states, small oil producing wells were found near Corsicana, Texas, in 1897, but the major discovery of the Spindletop Oil Field near Beaumont in 1901 opened huge fields in the Gulf Coast area and led a shift of the domestic petroleum from Pennsylvania to the southern portion of the United States. About the same time, small discoveries were made in Oklahoma and then the large Glenn Pool was found near Tulsa in 1905, making Oklahoma the largest oil producing state in the area until 1928.
Discovery of oil in the areas south and west of Arkansas indicated that oil might
be contained in subsurface zones of Arkansas. Several test wells were drilled in Arkansas but failed to indicate commercial deposits of oil. Then in January 1921, oil was discovered in the Busey #1 Armstrong well about two miles west of El Dorado in Union County. The producing zone was at a depth of about 2,000 feet in what was later named the El Dorado South Field.
El Dorado quickly became an oil boomtown as thousands of people flocked to the new oil discovery scene. Leases were acquired, drilling rigs were erected, workers arrived for demanding schedules, and many wells were drilled in the development of the oil reservoirs.
In 1922, about 10 miles north of El Dorado, oil was discovered at a depth of about 2,000 feet in the Smackover Field, which is located in the southern portion of Ouachita County and the northern portion of Union County. This field has been the most prolific oil producing field in the state, and the large producing rates of oil from this field caused the state oil production total to increase each year until the peak producing rate was recorded in 1925. By this time, much development had occurred in this field, and a subsequent rapid decline of the annual oil producing rate occurred as the reservoirs were depleted. Figure 1 indicates the annual oil production for the state, from the initial production in 1921 through the year of 2001. The annual rate of production is in millions of barrels.
Annual oil producing rates in the state continued to decline until 1937, when oil was discovered in the Shuler Field in the western area of Union County. This new discovery of oil was produced from zones at depths of 5,500 feet to 7,500 feet. This discovery of deeper productive reservoirs led to another extended boom time of drilling and development in South Arkansas. In 1938, the major Magnolia Field was discovered in Columbia County, and also the Village Field was developed in Columbia County.
Other discoveries which expanded further oil development in South Arkansas were: in 1939, the Dorcheat-Macedonia Field in Columbia County; in 1940, the McKamie-Patton Field in Lafayette County; and in 1942, the Midway Field in Lafayette County.
Extensive drilling across the South Arkansas area and deeper drilling contributed to the development of oil production from this area. Depletion of the reservoirs and economics have caused the gradual decline in the annual rates of oil production. Through December 31, 2001, there have been 343 fields discovered and a total of 1,762,000,000 barrels produced in South Arkansas. Of these, there have been three major fields that have each produced over 100 million barrels of oil (Table 1), four fields have had production in excess of 50 million barrels (Table 2), and fourteen have produced more than 10 million barrels (Table 3). Oil production has been from ten counties in the state. Table 4 lists these ten counties and the number of fields discovered in each county and the cumulative oil produced.
South Arkansas was fortunate to have had the oil discovery in 1921 and the subsequent drilling which developed the reservoirs and allowed the production of oil. This development provided income for the landowners, drilling companies, and the operators who have produced the oil.

Arkansas Oil Fields Producing More Than 100 Million Barrels of Oil
Field Year of Discovery Oil Produced (mbls)
Smackover 1922 583
Shuler 1937 113
Magnolia 1938 170

Arkansas Oil Fields Whose Production Was in Excess of
50 Million Barrels of Oil
Field Year of Discovery Oil Produced (mbls)
El Dorado South 1921 57
Stephens 1922 60
Midway 1942 83
Wesson 1945 63

Arkansas Oil Fields That Have Produced More Than
10 Million Barrels of Oil
Field Year of Discovery Oil Produced (mbls)
El Dorado East 1921 16
Irma 1921 19
Champagnolle 1927 35
Urbana 1929 20
Troy 1936 13
Buckner 1937 20
Atlanta 1938 24
Village 1938 29
Dorcheat-Macedonia 1939 47
Fouke 1940 33
McKamie-Patton 1940 39
Sandy Bend 1947 13
Walker Creek 1957 35
Chalybeat Springs 1971 15

Arkansas Counties, Number of Fields and Production
County Number of Fields Cumulative Oil Produced (mbls)
Ashley 1 0.2
Bradley 4 6.0
Calhoun 8 5.0
Columbia 56 383.0
Hempstead 3 0.2
Lafayette 69 208.0
Miller 53 79.0
Nevada 14 64.0
Ouachita 21 394.0
Union 114 637.0

Ragsdale, a retired petroleum engineer, is an El Dorado resident and member of the El Dorado Historic District Commission. This article was originally presented as part of the Drake Well Foundation Symposium in Shreveport, Louisiana, in March 2003.

Oil production volumes were acquired from the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission,
El Dorado, Arkansas.