A map released by the Ohio Geological Survey indicates only part of Washington County is ideal for Utica shale drilling, but an official with the agency emphasized Monday that the data is only preliminary.
According to the map, the western portion of the county is not among the areas in the state expected to yield the most natural gas, oil and other resources.
Utica shale in the northeastern portion of Morgan County has the potential to release natural gas and natural gas liquids such as propane, butane and ethane, while Utica shale in Monroe County is likely to yield only natural gas, according to the ODNR.
Utica shale in Noble County has the potential to produce both natural gas and natural gas liquids.
Portions of Monroe, Noble, Washington and Morgan counties are rated in the very good to fair range in terms of total organic carbon (TOC) value, which determines how successful wells will be.
Most of Athens County is rated as fair, although the western portion of the county is rated as poor.
Snapshot fuels optimism about future of Ohio wells
By The Associated Press
COLUMBUS - Natural gas wells using the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing are producing at a much higher rate than traditional wells, according to the first look at production figures from nine active wells in the Utica Shale formation in eastern Ohio.
Figures reported Monday by Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. show five wells in eastern Ohio producing 2.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2011. The other four wells produced hundreds of barrels of oil but are not in natural gas production yet, according to Chesapeake.
The report, which Chesapeake provided to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, shows one well in Harrison County producing 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas, or 2 percent of the state's entire natural gas production.
Put another way, that well has 300 times more in daily production than the average well drilled vertically into the ground, said Rick Simmers, chief of ODNR's Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.
"The preliminary production for all the wells on the gas side is very high," Simmers said.
Companies including Chesapeake have drilled 38 other wells that have yet to report production.
Ohio has issued about 150 permits for Utica Shale wells in Ohio. By contrast, the state has about 49,000 traditional gas wells reporting production of about 73 billion cubic feet in 2011.
The figures continue to fuel Chesapeake's optimism about the formation, spokesman Keith Fuller said in a statement. "The data reported, while promising, is still very limited and only a small part of the information needed to gauge the potential of the entire formation," he added.
The data reported Monday involves wells drilled using a method dubbed "fracking," in which thousands of gallons of chemically laced water are blasted into shale deposits, freeing natural gas trapped in the layers of shale.
The natural gas reported Monday includes both "dry" gas that can be distributed almost immediately to gas companies for home and business use, and "wet" gas that includes other proponents such as butane and propane that must be stripped out, Simmers said.
Eastern Ohio is in the midst of a natural gas boom as developers seek to capture rights to Utica Shale deposits. Last month, BP announced it had leased 84,000 acres of land in the Utica/Point Pleasant shale formation in northeast Ohio for oil and gas production.
The Utica Shale lies below the Marcellus Shale, where oil companies in Pennsylvania have drilled thousands of wells in search of natural gas and, more recently, oil.
Also last month, Chesapeake announced a $900 million project for gathering, compression and processing of natural gas and natural gas liquids. The project will roll out over five years, with parts of the complex scheduled to begin operations by June 2013.
Decisions by Chesapeake and BP to develop in Ohio come despite a proposal by Republican Gov. John Kasich to hike the taxes that oil and gas drillers pay for extracting the state's natural resources. Ohio's oil and gas association has criticized Kasich's plan as a potential turnoff to drilling activity. The governor wants to use the proceeds to fund a modest statewide income-tax reduction beginning in 2016.
Locally, while some are surprised by the information, others are not bothered by it.
"That report is not alarming us in the least bit," said Barlow resident John Church, a member of the Barlow Area Landowners' Association. "I'm taking my (information) from the oil and gas companies and they are still expressing a lot of interest."
Mac Swinford, assistant chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' division of geological survey, said the map was developed using information collected from core samples in the state's repository in Columbus.
The shale cores were taken from drilling of old wells. He said drilling companies were given permission to sample the cores, then they were asked to report the data back to the ODNR.
"We have been collecting this information from companies that have sampled our core samples in our repository," Swinford said.
He said the data used to develop the map was "slim" and landowners in western Washington County should not be concerned that they might miss out on the shale boom that is expected as a result of hydraulic fracturing.
Also known as fracking, the drilling process involves shattering rock thousands of feet underground with a combination of water, sand and chemicals.
Swinford said there is more silt, sand and clay in western Washington County than there is in the rest of the county, which is why the shale formations there aren't as good for drilling.
"The folks in western Washington County are still in the play," he noted.
Belpre Township trustee Gary Merrow said he was surprised by the information, especially considering the "hype" surrounding fracking and a potential boom.
"I heard Washington County was in pretty good shape for the Utica shale," he said. "That surprises me that they think southeast Ohio is somewhat weak on the Utica shale production."
According to the map, Utica shale in the eastern portion of Washington County has the potential to release primarily natural gas.
Decatur Township trustee James Irvin, who hopes to lease some of his land for drilling, said the information doesn't worry him.
Decatur Township is in the western part of the county, bordering Athens County.
"I would like to see them drill but if it happens, it happens in our area and if you're not there, you're not going to get it," Irvin said. "There's nothing you can do about it."
Swinford said the division of geological survey will develop maps on an ongoing basis as additional data becomes available.