The first well drilled specifically looking for oil and natural gas in New Jersey was completed before 1868. Since that time 35 additional oil or gas exploration wells have been drilled in the state, with 33 of them being drilled between 1915 and 1966. The first well and two later wells were drilled in the Triassic-Jurassic sandstones and shales of the Piedmont Province, with the rest being located in the sands and clays of the New Jersey Coastal Plain. None of the oil and natural gas exploration wells encountered anything to warrant further exploration. No oil or natural gas exploration wells have been drilled in either the Valley and Ridge or the Highlands Provinces.
The search for oil and natural gas began in New Jersey before 1868 (New Jersey Geological Survey Permanent Notes, Cook, 1868). Since the original exploration well in Bergen County a total of 36 wells have been drilled in the state. No exploration wells have been drilled in the Paleozoic sedimentary rocks of northwestern New Jersey even though similar aged rocks of Pennsylvania and New York have produced oil and natural gas since the beginning of the industry (oil, 1859 and natural gas, 1821). Three wells were drilled in the central part of the state, in the Triassic-Jurassic sandstones and shales of the Newark Basin portion of the Piedmont Province with the remainder, 33 wells, being drilled in the Coastal Plain portion of the state. State Geologist Meredith Johnson, in a 1955 article on New Jersey’s mineral resources, indicated the most likely area to search for oil or gas would be the Coastal Plain, but cautioned that deep tests in Delaware and Maryland in similar sediments failed to find any oil or gas (Johnson, 1955). Only six oil and gas exploration wells were drilled in the state after 1951 and all were located in the Coastal Plain Province. Two of the six, the Bowman wells, were drilled within 100 feet of each other due to the drill rods being stuck at 3,200 feet in the first hole and a second hole had to be drilled to reach bedrock, the target depth, which turned out to be a hundred feet below the bottom of the first hole. Based on all the information in the Survey files, including some laboratory analyses, none of the 36 exploration wells encountered any oil or natural gas to warrant further investigation. As a result of the New Jersey Laws of 1947, Chapter 377, all of the wells drilled after 1949 had well permits issued by the State. In 1986, the Legislature passed a law requiring the Department of Environmental Protection to develop regulations for the exploration of oil and natural gas in New Jersey which the Department never promulgated. Due to the lack of regulations there has been no more recent exploration in New Jersey since the 1982 drilling of the Bowman wells, at Warren Grove, Stafford Township, Burlington County. The Transco and Bowman wells seem to have targeted a postulated geologic structure since they were clustered in a specific region. No oil or natural gas was found in any of the Coastal Plain wells even though the same age formations in the Gulf Coast produced oil. Several operators claimed to have found oil but when the actual samples were analyzed by state or federal laboratories all were found to be refined oils, not crude oil as would be expected. A few of the wells reported traces of natural gas, but nothing was significant enough to even warrant a drill string test. The main reason oil or natural gas has not been found onshore in the New Jersey Coastal Plain is that these formations are unconsolidated and there are no fold structures to form structural traps which would prevent any hydrocarbons in the sediments from migrating away.
Various Data Sources and References:
Cook, G. H., 1868, Geology of New Jersey: New Jersey Geological Survey, Newark, 899 p.
Johnson, Meredith, 1955, Conservation or Development: New Jersey’s Mineral Resources, in Review of New Jersey Business, v. XI, No. 1, Rutgers University Press.
------------------, 1961, Thirty-one selected deep wells, Geological Report Survey- well logs and map: New Jersey Geological Survey Geological Report Series, GRS No. 2, 109 p.
Kasabach, H.K. and Soudder, R.J., 1961, Deep wells of the New Jersey Coastal Plain: New Jersey Geological Survey, Geological Report Series GRS No. 3, 62 p.
Kummel, H.B., 1912, Note taking, in the Annual administrative report of the State Geologist for the year 1911, New Jersey Geological Survey Bulletin No. 6, p. 13-18. New Jersey Geological and Water Survey files and Permanent Notes.