Photo Caption: Map of the Utica shale provided by the Ohio EPA
Early results from a newly drilled oil-and-gas well in Rome Township are still very tentative but initially look promising, one of the partners in the venture said Sunday.
"It's just starting to show some oil," reported Randy Wolfe, of R. Wolfe Oil & Gas, LLC. "It's just starting to show us some pretty good oil right now."
Hayes/Wolfe well was drilled into the Utica-Pt. Pleasant shale formation, which
underlies much of Ohio and neighboring states to our east and northeast.
Any reports on the performance of the Hayes-Wolfe vertical deep-shale well are being anxiously anticipated by the oil and gas industry, landowners and environmental opponents of fracking, since that performance, good or bad, will be the first substantial data point for deep-shale drilling in Athens County. If the results look good, that could greatly increase the amount of interest in drilling for oil or gas this far south in Ohio.
Wolfe and local developer James Brent Hayes are partners on the well, which they drilled on land Hayes owns near River Road.
The well will eventually use the hydraulic fracturing method, in which chemical-laced water is pumped under pressure into shale beds deep underground. The liquid fractures the shale, allowing oil and natural gas to be pumped to the surface.
Currently, however, the oil that's coming up is from the Berea sandstone that's above the Utica, Wolfe said. He added, however, that this output is still promising and suggests the Utica below may be oil-rich as well.
The drillers have also taken samples from within the Utica layer, which likewise hold out some promise that the well may be productive.
The well will not use the higher-impact horizontal drilling with fracturing, which allows drillers to send pipes out sideways to access a much wider area of the shale bed. Instead, if the drillers do decide to frack the Utica, they will employ the vertical fracking method, which goes straight down into the shale and has been in use in Ohio and elsewhere for decades.
Wolfe reported Sunday that the drilling process was complete about three weeks ago. This set the clock running for the drillers to turn in an initial report to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, on how much oil and/or gas the well is producing. The first production report is due to ODNR 60 days after the fracking procedure is complete.
In the meantime, Wolfe said, the well does seem to show promise that it may produce decent quantities of oil. He noted that initially, what comes up from a newly fracked well is mostly the fracking fluid, but that gradually this fluid has been showing more and more oil content.
He stressed, however, that it's still very early to predict with confidence that the well will produce in profitable amounts.
"We really don't have any indication as to how good it is," Wolfe said.
Initial measurements of total organic content and other indicators from the well do seem to suggest that the Utica may be richer in Athens County than a controversial state geological map last spring had led Wolfe and Hayes to expect, he said.
Numbers from the well indicating how rich in petrochemicals the shale underneath it may be appear at this point to be "two to three times higher" than what the map, released in March by Ohio's state geologist, seemed to predict.
Former state Geologist Larry Wickstrom ended up being demoted for releasing the map without properly vetting it with his superiors at ODNR, and for having too chummy a relationship with the oil-and-gas industry, among other reasons.
That map seemed to indicate that Athens County lies outside the "core play area" of the Utica-Pt. Pleasant shale formation in Ohio, and that therefore the county is unlikely to see the kind of boom in shale drilling that is currently happening in counties farther to the northeast, such as Carroll and Tuscarawas
A newly released map of the Utica shale formation by the U.S. Geological Survey, however, seems to brighten (though not confirm) the shale-drilling prospects for Athens County, and Wolfe said the early numbers being shown by the Rome Township well appear close to those being reported out of counties where drilling is in full swing.
If the Hayes/Wolfe well does produce oil and/or gas in profitable amounts, Wolfe said, he believes the data it produces may help attract bigger drilling companies to the county.
"It could possibly bring it this way a little more," he said.
Hayes and Wolfe have plans for two more vertical wells, one near the Rome Township site, and another near Athens County's northern border with Morgan County, but they have so far not filed for drilling permits with the state for those, while they await results from the first well.
One geological fact that's not in much dispute is that the Utica shale bed becomes thinner as it comes south and west. Wolfe said it remains to be seen whether than means the shale here will not be worth drilling in economic terms.