Apache Corp. on Thursday disclosed “encouraging” results from an exploratory drilling program in the emerging Whittenburg Basin in the Texas Panhandle, where five of six initial vertical tests were completed as “oil producers” in the Canyon Wash interval.

The Houston-based explorer operates a 96,000 net-acre leasehold in the Bivins Ranch area, a 200-square-mile block in Hartley, Oldham, Potter and Moore counties where it has estimated working interests of 73.5%. The block is immediately south of the prolific Panhandle Dolomite field and north of two 25-well Canyon Wash fields.

Horizontal development drilling is to begin by the middle of this year, said Apache’s Robert Johnston, vice president of the company’s central region. “We are very encouraged that our early results support our geological model,” and exploration is to be expanded using newly acquired 3-D seismic, he said.

“Advances in horizontal drilling and multi-stage fracture stimulations have greatly improved the economics of drilling in oil and liquids-rich formations across western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle; the wells we have drilled thus far in the Bivins Ranch area have all the ingredients to suggest that these techniques may generate even greater productivity.”

The Bivins Ranch acreage is part of Apache’s stepped-up program to explore in underdeveloped areas, beyond existing operations, which can benefit from “technical expertise and financial capacity,” said Johnston.

Prior to Apache’s recent activity in the area, only 21 wells had been drilled on the block, which is about 100 miles west of the company’s Anadarko Basin properties.

In the first 30 days or less of production data, the five Bivins wells indicated solid results, Apache said. The 3-2 well averaged 1,001 b/d of oil and 839 Mcf/d of gas from 80 feet of pay, while the 28-2 well averaged 315 b/d and 123 Mcf/d from 140 feet of pay. Also in the first 30 days the 115-1 averaged 175 b/d and 97 Mcf/d from 231 feet of net pay.

The 4-3 well, which on Thursday had been on production less than a week, was producing 137 bbl and 105 Mcf, Apache said. And in the first three weeks of production, the 219-2 averaged 107 bbl and 42 Mcf from 50 feet of pay.

The initial drilling locations were developed using a 64-square-mile 3-D seismic survey. A 244-square-mile 3-D survey over the remainder of the acreage recently was completed, with final processing expected by the end of March. Ten additional wells are scheduled during 2012.

Apache last month said it was picking up 254,000 net acres in the Granite Wash, Tonkawa, Cleveland and Marmaton plays in Oklahoma and Texas with estimated proved reserves of 71.5 million boe through a $2.85 billion deal to acquire privately held Cordillera Energy Partners III LLC (see Shale Daily, Jan. 24).