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Much of the Puget Lowland and Columbia River basin have some potential for natural gas production (Johnson and others, 1997; Lingley, 1995; Lingley and von der Dick, 1991; Lingley and Walsh, 1986; McFarland, 1983; Walsh and Lingley, 1996). Oil exploration is of relatively little importance in Washington because coastal areas north of Grayland are the only parts of the state with reasonable potential for oil discoveries (Palmer and Lingley, 1989; Snavely and Kvenvolden, 1989).

About 600 gas and oil wells have been drilled in Washington, but large-scale commercial production has never occurred (McFarland, 1983). Small amounts of gas were produced from the Bellingham Gas Field east of Ferndale and the Rattlesnake Hills Gas Field north of Richland (McFarland, 1983). The most recent production, which was from the Ocean City Gas and Oil Field west of Hoquiam, ceased in 1962, and no oil or gas have been produced since that time.

In western Washington, companies are exploring for coalbed methane (Pappajohn and Mitchell, 1991). During the last decade, industry found that methane could be produced directly from coalbeds if the coals are hydraulically fractured and excess water in the coal is pumped out. If coalbed methane or other gas is discovered and production is legally permitted in Washington, the gas would be processed, compressed, and transported by small-diameter pipelines to the mainline system. These small-diameter production pipelines are similar to the myriad gas distribution lines that pipe gas to communities throughout Washington.

For more information on energy issues in the northwest, access the websites of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.


The right to drill for natural gas in Washington is controlled by mineral estate owners. The mineral estate may be owned by the surface owner or by another party such as descendants of homesteaders, state or federal government, large timber companies, or previous landowners who chose to retain the mineral rights upon selling the land.

Companies prefer to lease rather than purchase the right to explore a mineral estate. If a company purchases the mineral estate and subsequently drills an unsuccessful wildcat, large amounts of capital would be frozen in a mineral estate that had diminished in value owing to the dryhole. Commonly, companies that have drilled many discoveries gather a following of mineral estate speculators who attempt to lease minerals at a low cost and sell them to the successful company or a competitor at a higher price. In order to reduce competition from speculators, successful companies commonly retain a small leasing company to do their land work. No mineral estate owner is under any obligation to lease their mineral rights.


Johnson, S. Y.; Tennyson, M. E.; Lingley, W. S., Jr.; Law, B. E., 1997, Petroleum geology of the State of Washington: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1582, 40 p.

Lingley, W. S., Jr., 1995, Petroleum potential and probability of renewed mineral-rights leasing in the Columbia Basin, Washington: Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources, 43 p.

Lingley, W. S., Jr.; von der Dick, Hans, 1991, Petroleum geochemistry of Washington--A summary: Washington Geology, v. 19, no. 4, p. 23-27.

Lingley, W. S., Jr.; Walsh, T. J., 1986, Issues relating to petroleum drilling near the proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Hanford: Washington Geologic Newsletter, v. 14, no. 3, p. 10-19.

McFarland, C. R., 1983, Oil and gas exploration in Washington, 1900-1982: Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources Information Circular 75, 119 p. plus addendum covering 1982 to present.

Palmer, S. P.; Lingley, W. S., Jr., 1989, An assessment of the oil and gas potential of the Washington outer continental shelf: University of Washington, Washington Sea Grant Program, Washington State and Offshore Oil and Gas, 83 p., 12 plates.

Pappajohn, S. P.; Mitchell, T. E., 1991, Delineation of prospective coalbed methane trends in western and central Washington State. In Schwochow, S. D.; Murray, D. K.; Fahy, M. F., editors, Coalbed methane in western North America: Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists, p. 163-178.

Snavely, P. D., Jr.; Kvenvolden, K. A., 1989, Geology and hydrocarbon potential. In Preliminary evaluation of the petroleum potential of the Tertiary accretionary terrane, west side of the Olympic Peninsula, Washington: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1892, p. 1-17, 1 plate.

Walsh, T. J.; Lingley, W. S., Jr., 1996, Coal maturation and the potential for natural gas accumulation in western and central Washington State. In Salisbury, G. P.; Salisbury, A. C., editors, Fifth Circum-Pacific Energy and Mineral Resources Conference transactions: Gulf Publishing Company, p. 667-685.

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