Strata-X is testing a gas-play concept on the edge of the Williston Basin.

The shallow, Cretaceous-age Niobrara is the target of a seemingly extra-wild wildcat program by prospectors at Strata-X Energy Ltd. in dry-hole Emmons County in south-central North Dakota.

Reflecting the operator’s hopes for making a play, Strata-X has dubbed its 120,000-acre prospect the “Sleeping Giant Gas Project,” borrowing part of the moniker from geologist Dick Findley’s name for his “Sleeping Giant” Bakken-oil play in 1996 in eastern Montana. Findley’s prospect, which became Elm Coulee Field, has made more than 125 million barrels, beginning in 2000, and inspired the modern North Dakota play that currently makes nearly 1 million barrels a day. A nascent, northeastern extension of Elm Coulee Field has made more than 5.4 million barrels.

North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources director Lynn Helms told the Associated Press in Bismarck that Denver-based Strata-X’s (Australia: SXA) request for permits to drill in Emmons County were “rare.”

Of 34 wells drilled for oil or gas in the county, beginning in 1943 and ending in 2007, all have been dry holes, according to state records. Six additional wells were stratigraphic tests.

Until Strata-X’s Rohweder #1-11 was spud in June in Township 132 North, Range 75 West, Section 11, the last well attempted in the county was by Staghorn Energy LLC in January 2007 four townships north. Staghorn had received a permit for a “Rohweder 1-11” but let that and another permit, Wohl 1-5 one section north, expire.

A nearby attempt

For a look at the stratigraphic column in the area, which approaches the edge of the Williston Basin, the deepest well drilled near Strata-X’s Rohweder #1-11 is Franklin investment Co. #1 to 5,359 feet in 1943 by Noble Drilling Co. for Tulsa-based Northern Ordnance Inc. The objective was Deadwood sandstone at 6,000 feet and drilling was quit shortly after encountering water and granite at 5,353 feet. It was spud June 10, 1943, and plugged on July 22.

Carter Oil Co., which began wildcatting in the Williston Basin in the 1930s and continued on into the 1950s, loaned its geologist, Loy E. Harris, to Northern Ordnance to study the rock cuttings, according to the state well file. Harris borrowed a microscope from Wilson Laird, state geologist, North Dakota Geological Survey.

Eight cores were taken along the stratigraphic column.

From the cuttings, Harris reported that “except for the Dakota, Fuson and Lakota sections, there were no sands or suitable reservoirs present above the Amsden of Mississippian age. The three above-mentioned formations contained sands, but they were rather tight and had no shows as confirmed by (a) Schlumberger electrical survey. In the Amsden formation, some rather porous dolomites and dolomitic limestones were encountered without any shows of oil.

“The Big Snowy and Madison groups of the Mississippian had very little porosity that could be noted in the cuttings. The Devonian rocks were represented principally by shales. The few limestones present contained no shows and were tight and hard.

“The Ordovician above 4,881 feet…had very little porosity and no shows of oil. From 4,881 feet to 4,910 feet, a fine dolomitic and shaly sandstone was encountered that was finely porous but with no show of oil. Between this sandy zone and 5,090 feet were rich-green to dull-brown shales which, from appearances, should make very good source beds.

“At 5,080 feet, a sandstone was topped. This sandstone graded from fine near the top to coarse and loose near the middle and back to fine near the base. This entire section, except for a few, thin, shale stringers, had fair to good porosity and would be an excellent reservoir when found under the proper structural conditions.”

The well traveled through Pierre, Niobrara (at 1,260 feet), Carlile, Graneros, Muddy, Dakota sandstone, Fuson, Lakota, formations labeled only Jurassic and Triassic, Amsden, Big Snowy, Madison (Mission Canyon and Lodgepole), formations labeled only Devonian and Ordovician, Granite Wash and granite.

A Niobrara structure

Strata-X’s program is to target a Niobrara structure in the area that contains biogenic gas generated from ancient algae at about 1,300 feet. As the Niobrara is fractured there, it reported, it estimates porosity of up to 40%. Secondary targets are the shallower Pierre and the deeper Greenhorn/Belle Fourche—which were named since Northern Ordnance’s 1943 well—the Mowry shale and the Muddy.

Spud June 22, Strata-X’s vertical Rohweder #1-11 was drilled to 1,450 feet by June 26. The company reported, “In total, gas shows were encountered over an 80-foot interval of the targeted Niobrara formation, with gas shows peaking at approximately 300 units over a background of 25 units. In drilling portions of the targeted Niobrara formation, oil fluorescence and oil cut were also observed.”

If the well produces meaningfully upon completion, the company plans to drill three more holes this year: Hoff #1-32 due north and Just #1-24 and Aberle #1-31 east of there in McIntosh County.

Fourteen of 14 attempts in McIntosh County, beginning in 1952 and ending in 1975, were dry holes.

Tim Hoops, Strata-X chief executive, president and managing director, was president of wildcatter Kestrel Energy Inc. until its going-private transaction in 2005; his early career as a geologist was with Amoco Production, Cities Service and Santa Fe Energy.

Strata-X’s chairman is Ron Prefontaine, who was a director of Australia-listed gas producer Arrow Energy Pty Ltd., which was acquired in 2010 by Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina for $3.5 billion. Prefontaine was also a director of Bow Energy Ltd., which was acquired by Arrow for $550 million in 2011.

–Nissa Darbonne, Author, The American Shales; Editor-at-Large, Oil and Gas Investor,, Oil and Gas Investor This Week, A&D Watch,, Contact Nissa at