When it comes to the Marmaton, it’s better to leave it to Beaver.

In fact, Ward, June, Wally and young Theodore Cleaver would find Unit Corp.’s Marmaton effort in Beaver County, Oklahoma, a solvable family drama, though not without a few Eddie Haskell ups and downs.

Today’s high oil prices help Marmaton exploration in the Oklahoma Panhandle, as do incentives like Oklahoma’s horizontal well severance tax reduction. Large acreage positions spread infrastructure costs over multiple wells and reduce the economic challenge associated with developing a highly fractured carbonate limestone.

The Marmaton’s largest player is Tulsa-based Unit Corp., which operates 115,000 net acres in the play. Unit’s Marmaton position received a boost in July 2012 when Unit acquired Noble Corp.’s 84,000 net acres in Texas and Oklahoma for $617 million in cash.

Acquisitions to assemble large acreage positions point to ongoing consolidation in the Marmaton. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. acquired 61,000 acres in the play and has completed more than a dozen wells in a one-rig program. Cabot is reporting an average 800 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) per day) on five extended-reach Marmaton horizontal wells during first-quarter 2013.

Historically, more than 400 vertical wells have penetrated the high-quality, API 38-degree, oil-bearing Marmaton limestone in the Oklahoma Panhandle, finding a ready market in nearby Texas refineries.

The Marmaton is Unit Corp.’s first resource-style play and Unit, accordingly, is using horizontal drilling to tap the highly fractured limestone. The company has completed 85 operated horizontal wells in the Marmaton since 2010 and tallies 150 potential locations on 640-acre spacing at $2.7 million per well, including 16 frac stages. For 2012, Unit reported 30-day initial production (IP) of 407 BOE per day out of the Marmaton, an improvement over the 298 BOE daily the company generated prior to the Noble purchase. The company will run two rigs in 2013 and has budgeted $90 million for the Marmaton, an increase from the $75 million spent in 2012.

Unit’s Frank Young, senior vice president for operations, spoke at Hart Energy’s DUG Midcontinent Conference in Tulsa in April and noted the company is drilling 4,500-foot horizontal Marmaton wells in 11 days. Those laterals feature 16-stage fracs.

According to Young, best practices in the Marmaton include no circulation while drilling laterals. Without circulation, the bits and bottomhole assemblies grind cuttings into sizes small enough to be dispersed into the Marmaton’s natural fracture system.

Completions involve open-hole systems with packers for zone isolation. However, the highly fractured formation generates occasional interference between wells, prompting the company to postpone fracture stimulation on new wells when the well demonstrates communication with nearby producers. Unit has detected interference on 320-acre spacing and is now looking at a minimum 640-acre spacing.

Unit is also pursuing 10,000-foot extended-reach laterals where lease blocks permit. The company has drilled at least one $4.2-million 9,500-lateral that generated a 30-day IP of 960 BOE per day on 32 frac stages.

Longer laterals also suit Cabot. Dan Dinges, the company’s chief executive, told listeners to its first-quarter 2013 earnings call that a recent move to longer laterals brought a 50% increase in estimated ultimate recoveries (EURs), to 230,000 BOE. Dinges cautioned that short production history made definitive statements on EURs difficult, “but we are very pleased with what we are seeing in the Marmaton.”

Similarly, Southwestern Energy recently reported a promising oil show in a vertical Marmaton well in Colorado’s Denver-Julesburg Basin more than 250 miles to the northwest.

And this produces an Eddie Haskell moment. As with Eddie, things are not always what they seem once adults leave the room. The Marmaton is showing up everywhere, from the deep Anadarko Basin to the D-J Basin. The confusion reprises the misperception surrounding a vertebrate homonym to the geologic Marmaton, and that is the marmot, which is related to ground squirrels, prairie dogs, groundhogs and woodchucks but not, alas, to beavers. The latter supplied the name for Beaver County, Oklahoma, via a frontier-era fur trading post in the lawless Cimarron Strip. Of course, most know Beaver County today as home to the annual World Championship Cow Chip Throw each April.

Similarly, the Marmaton refers to the Pennsylvanian-aged carbonate limestone called the Oswego elsewhere, but which should not be confused with the Marmaton Wash in the deeper Anadarko Basin. The Marmaton Wash consists of fan deltas and turbidite sandstones along a 125-mile arc from the Texas Panhandle into western Oklahoma. The latter is a major target for Granite Wash horizontal drilling.