Oil companies exploring Indiana fields for fuel

Companies are exploring Indiana fields for oil.

The worldwide thirst and search for energy has explorers poking around Indiana farm fields. They are finding Indiana oil and re-energizing a state industry most Hoosiers thought was history.

Well-drilling rigs are rising up in farm fields that, until recently, energy companies had no idea contained so much oil.

CountryMark President and CEO Charles Smith says he gets some laughs when he tells people he's looking for oil in Indiana, but he has the last laugh. Indiana's farmer's cooperative discovered one of the state's biggest new oil fields. There may be three million barrels or more buried beneath the Hulman family farm near Terre Haute.

Some of these new wells are finding oil 1,800 feet straight down. Others though are having to bend a six-inch steel pipe and go sideways up to a quarter of a mile to reach the oil.

"We think there are tremendous opportunities and prospects, you have to find them," Smith said.

People have been finding oil in Indiana since the 1880s, but the Hoosier energy boom went bust in just 30 years. Then, it was Texas' turn. The oil rush there was romanticized by Indiana's own James Dean.

The oil industry has changed immensely, except for one thing.

"It's an educated gamble," Smith said, adding that, "It is paying off."

So much that new companies are getting into the Indiana oil business. Production is at a 10-year high. Indiana's Department of Natural Resources tracks about 3,500 active wells and sees a small, but steady, increase in drilling permits.

"More importantly, that represents jobs and income, not only for the oil companies, but for land owners," said Herschel McDivitt.

Higher oil prices are fueling the new search for Indiana oil. Operators are willing to take bigger risks. It costs a quarter of a million dollars to drill a single well, with no guarantee of hitting oil and millions more to develop a well field.

Americans burn about 19 million barrels of oil a day, about ten times what Indiana wells produce in an entire year. Although Indiana will never be a significant player in the oil market, Smith remains optimistic.

"Our experts say there is a lot more potential in the state. The U.S. Geological Survey has done studies, they say there is more potential in the state. It takes people to invest money and take risks and to the science to find it," he said.

Perhaps a brilliant moment in history can still lead Indiana to a brighter future. Of the 31 oil producing states, Indiana currently ranks about 21st.