The Water-Energy Nexus in Ohio, Part I

OH Utica Production, Water Usage, and Changes in Lateral Length
Part I of a Multi-part Series
By Ted Auch, OH Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

As shale gas expands in Ohio, how too does water use? We conducted an analysis of 500+ Utica wells in an effort to better understand the water-energy nexus in Ohio between production, water usage, and lateral length across 500+ Utica wells. The following is a list of the primary findings from this analysis:

Lateral Length

Modified Schematic Highlighting the Lateral Portion of the Well

Figure 1. Modified EIA schematic highlighting the lateral portion of the unconventional well

In unconventional oil and gas drilling, often operators need to drill both vertically and then laterally to follow the formation underground. This process increases the amount of shale that the well contacts (see the modified EIA schematic in Figure 1). As a general rule Ohio’s Utica wells transition to the horizontal or lateral phase at around 6,800 feet below the earth’s surface.

1. The average Utica lateral is increasing in length by 51-55 feet per quarter, up from an average of 6,369 feet between Q3-2010 and Q2-2011 to 6,872 feet in the last four quarters. Companies’ lateral length growth varies, for example:

    • Gulfport is increasing by 46 feet (+67,206 gallons of water),
    • R.E. Gas Development and Antero 92 feet (+134,412 gallons of water), and
    • Chesapeake 28 feet (+40,908 gallons of water).

2. An increase in lateral length accounts for 40% of the increase in the water usage, as we have discussed in the past.

3. As a general rule, every foot increase in lateral length equates to an increase of 1,461 gallons of freshwater.

Regional and County-Level Trends

This section looks into big picture of shale gas drilling in OH. Herein we summarize the current state of water usage by the Utica shale industry relative to hydrocarbon production, as a percentage of residential water usage, as well as long-term water usage and waste production forecasts.

1. Freshwater Use

    • Across 516 wells, we found that the average OH Utica well utilizes 5.04-5.69 million gallons of freshwater per well.
    • This figure includes a ratio of 12:1 freshwater to recycled water used on site.
    • Water usage is increasing by 221-330,000 gallons per well per quarter.
      • Note: In neighboring – and highly OH freshwater reliant-West Virginia, the average Marcellus well uses 6.1-6.6 million gallons per well, with a trend increase of 189-353,000 gallons per quarter per well.
      • Water usage is up from 4.88 million gallons per well between 2010 and the summer of 2011 to 7.27 million gallons today.
    • Over the next five years, we will likely see 18.5 billion gallons of freshwater used for shale gas drilling in OH.
    • On average, drilling companies use 588 gallons of water to get a gallon of oil.
      • Average: 338 gallons of water required to get 1 MCF of gas
      • Average: 0.078 gallons of brine produced per gallon of water

2. Residential Water Allocation

    • A portion of residential water (3.8-6.1% of usage) is being allocated to the Utica drilling boom.
      • This figure is as high as 81% of residential water requirements in Carroll County.
      • And amounts to 2.2-3.5% of the available water in the Muskingum River Watershed.
    • The allocation will increase over time to amount to 8.2-10.5% of residential usage or 4.4-5.6% of Muskingum River available water.

3. Permitted Wells Potential

    • If all permitted Utica wells were to come online (active), we could expect 299.7 million gallons of additional brine to be produced and an additional 220 million gallons of freshwater a year to be used.
    • This trend amounts to 1.1 billion gallons of fracking brine waste looking for a home within 5 years.

4. Waste Disposal

    • Stallion Oilfield Services has recently purchased several Class II Injection wells in Portage County.
    • These waste disposal sites are increasing their intake at a rate of 2.13 million gallons per quarter, 4.76 times that of the rest of OH Class II wells.

Water Usage By Company

The data trends we have reviewed vary significantly depending on the company that is assessed. Below we summarize the current state of water usage by the major players in Ohio’s Utica shale industry relative to hydrocarbon production. 

1. Overall Statistics

    • The 15 biggest Water-To-Oil offenders are currently averaging 16,844 Gallons of Water per gallon of oil (PGO) (i.e., Shugert 2-12H, Salem-Grubbs 1H, Stutzman 1 and 3-14H, etc).
    • Removing the above 15 brings the Water-To-Oil ratio down from 588 to 52 gallons of water PGO.
    • The 9 biggest Water-To-Gas offenders are currently averaging 16,699 gallons of water per MCF of gas.
    • Removing the above 9 brings the Water-To-Gas ratio down from 338 to 27 gallons of water per MCF of gas.

Company differences are noticeable (Figure 2):

Water Usage by Hydraulic Fracturing Industry in Ohio

Figure 2. Average Freshwater Use Among OH Utica Operators

    • Antero and Anadarko used an average of 9.5 and 8.8 MGs of water per well during the course of the 45-60 drilling process, respectively (Note: HG Energy has the wells with the highest water usage but a limited sample size, with 9.8 MGs per well).
    • Six companies average in the middle with 6.7-8.1 MGs of water per well.
    • Four companies average 5 MGs per well, including Chesapeake the biggest player here in OH.
    • Devon Energy is the one firm using less than 3 MGs of freshwater for each well it drills.

2. Water-to-Oil Ratios

Water-Energy Nexus in Ohio: Water-to-Oil Ratios Among OH Utica Operators

Figure 3. Water-to-Oil Ratios Among OH Utica Operators

Freshwater usage is increasing by 3.6 gallons per gallon of oil. Companies vary less in this metric, except for Gulfport (Figure 3):

    • Gulfport is by far the least efficient user of freshwater with respect to oil production, averaging 3,339 gallons of water to extract one gallon of oil.
    • Intermediate firms include American Energy and Hess, which required 661 and 842 gallons of freshwater to produce a gallon of oil.
    • The remaining eleven firms used anywhere from 6 (Atlas Noble) to 130 (Chesapeake) gallons of freshwater to get a unit of oil.

3. Water-to-Gas Ratios (Figure 4)

Water-Energy Nexus in Ohio: Water-to-Gas Ratio Among OH Utica Operators

Figure 4. Water-to-Gas Ratio Among OH Utica Operators

    • American Energy is also quite inefficient when it comes to natural gas production utilizing >2,200 gallons of freshwater per MCF of natural gas produced
    • Chesapeake and CNX rank a distant second, requiring 437 and 582 gallons of freshwater per MCF of natural gas, respectively.
    • The remaining firms for which we have data are using anywhere from 13 (RE Gas) to 81 (Gulfport) gallons of freshwater per MCF of natural gas.

4. Brine Production (Figure 5)

Water-Energy Nexus in Ohio: Brine-to-Oil Ratios among Ohio Utica Operators

Figure 5. Brine-to-Oil Ratios among Ohio Utica Operators

    • With respect to the relationship between hydrocarbon and waste generation, we see that no firm can match Oklahoma City-based Gulfport’s inefficiencies with an average of 2,400+ gallons of brine produced per gallon of oil.
    • American Energy and Hess are not as wasteful, but they are the only other firms generating more than 750 gallons brine waste per unit of oil.
    • Houston-based Halcon and OH’s primary Utica player Chesapeake Energy are generating slightly more than 400 gallons of brine per gallon of oil.
    • The remaining firms are generating between 17 (Atlas Noble and RE Gas) and 160 (Anadarko) gallons of brine per unit of oil.

Part II of the Series

In the next part of this series we will look into inter-county differences as they relate to water use, production, and lateral length. Additionally, we will also examine how the OH DNR’s initial Utica projections differ dramatically from the current state of affairs.

Water and Production in Ohio's Utica Shale - Water Per Well

Water and Production in Ohio’s Utica Shale – Water Per Well


2 replies
  1. Tom Pendergast
    Tom Pendergast says:

    How does the use of water by the oil and gas industry compare with the use of water by other industries such as
    * golf courses
    * agriculture
    * steel making
    * refineries, etc.?
    While the first two listed above use water mainly in the growing season, and the second two 24/7/365, the oil and gas industry only utilizes water during fracking operations which is, at most 2 weeks and maybe 3 or 4 times during the 20-30 lifespan of a well.

    • Ted Auch
      Ted Auch says:

      In my humble opinion the primary difference between the 4 industries you mentioned and the High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) industry is that while the former undoubtedly alter water quality they marginally effect water quantity. Meanwhile the HVHF industry profoundly alters water quality and water quantity in a way we have not seen to date. Removing water from the surface and subsurface water cycle has heretofore unquantified effects on watershed security/resilience.

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