Shale Gas Trends in Ohio: Abandoning Marcellus, Embracing Utica

Ohio is on the western edge of two enormous black shale formations in Appalachian Basin: the 390 million year old Devonian Period Marcellus Shale and the Utica Shale, formed from deposits in the Ordovician Period about 460 million years ago.

Image source: Ohio Environmental Protection Agency

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has made it easy to find shale gas data from these two formations.
This is provided that you are only interested in horizontal wells. ODNR sums up their opinion of the importance of horizontal wells thusly:

Effective immediately, the vertical permits (stratigraphic test well permits) have been removed from this listing. In the initial phases of both Marcellus and Utica exploration, they were listed to reflect exploratory activity. They are no longer necessary with the increase of horizontal permitting activity. As always, they are available through the Oil and Gas On-line Well Search (1).

To me, this seems like an arbitrary line in the sand for the ODNR to take, but then again, each state has its own quirks with dissemination of their oil and gas data. In Pennsylvania, for example, there is no way to determine a well’s source formation without a file review, other than whether or not the well is drilled into the Marcellus.  And in New York, the entire debate is couched around the phrase “High Volume Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing”, a specificity unmatched elsewhere in the basin, that includes well stimulations using more than 80,000 gallons of fluid.  In many respects, the ways in which the states release their data are datapoints unto themselves, but then, that is the subject of a different post altogether.

So let’s take a look at the trends in Ohio for the deep shale gas formations:

Ohio shale gas permits, including Marcellus (blue) and Utica (red). Please note that Marcellus wells include horizontal and vertical permits, while Utica includes only permits for horizontal wells. Please click the gray compass rose and double carat (^) to hide those menus.

Horizontal Marcellus Shale permits issued in Ohio through 4-9-2012

Clearly, there is not nearly as much activity as there is in Pennsylvania or even West Virginia. Altogether, there have been 13 horizontal Marcellus permits issued in the Buckeye State, the most recent of which was nearly ten months ago.  Seven of the permitted locations have been drilled so far.

Here’s the data from the Utica Shale:

Horizontal Utica Shale permits issued in Ohio through 4-9-2012

Altogether, there have been permits issued for 194 horizontal Utica wells, 60 of which have been drilled so far. Moreover, it seems to be in a period of rapid expansion; a distribution is reminiscent of the Marcellus in Pennsylvania in 2006 to 2007 (see link above).

Only nine of the sixty drilled wells were in production in 2011, four of which produced some oil from early completion and flowback phases, but no natural gas as of yet. None of the horizontal Utica wells were in production for the entire year in 2011.

Here are the statewide totals from the horizontal Utica wells:

Statewide production values from horizontal Utica Shale wells in Ohio in 2011

It is worth noting that over 59 percent of the gas production came from one well publicized Harrison County gas well–its 1.5 billion cubic feet of production is reported to be the source of 2 percent of the entire state’s gas production.

While that is an impressive quantity of gas from one well, it might be the oil production that is raising eyebrows in the industry. As this post is being written, oil prices are at $104 per barrel, and natural gas is trading at $1.92 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf). While there really isn’t much data to go on to determine if the results are typical, if there continues to be oil associated with the Utica gas to that extent, we may see more drilling rigs focused on the older formation, and fewer on the Marcellus.

  1. The well database is here. There are some limitations on the utility of this database, however, as users cannot use formation as a search parameter, and searches are limited to 1,000 records. Upon request though, the ODNR did send me a DVD full of data. The information is available, it just takes some fortitude to slog through it.
3 replies
  1. JD
    JD says:

    In the first line above, the “390 year old Devonian Period Marcellus Shale” should be “390 MILLION year old…”

    Otherwise, great work you folks are doing.

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