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Home / Articles / News / Local NEWS /  Partner in local oil-gas well: Results are promising
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Wednesday, December 5,2012

Partner in local oil-gas well: Results are promising

By Jim Phillips
OrdovShale_S2Max_112312

Photo Caption: The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Geological Survey released this map and several others last month. They show the latest status of deep-shale oil and gas resources in Ohio, based upon current available evidence. This particular map shows “S2” levels,” one measure of how productive the Utica shale is expected to be in Ohio. According to the ODNR, “an S2 greater than 5 is considered to have good source rock generative potential.” As one can see, much of southeast Ohio, including Athens County, is a good deal lower than 5 on the S2 scale. Some of the other maps, however, show more promising results, and an area with high oil values might have low natural gas values, and vice versa.

The first report on initial output from a new oil-and-gas well in Rome Township has been submitted to state regulators, and while the well won't be extracting oil and/or natural gas from the deep Utica-Pt. Pleasant shale formation, one of its operators said Tuesday it has provided promising new data on how rich in fossil fuels that shale bed might be in Athens County.

"We ended up with a new data point (for the Utica in Athens County)," reported Randy Wolfe, who is partnering in the well with local developer Brent Hayes, on whose land the well is located.

Up till now, state officials have had few if any data points showing the prospects for deep-shale development in Athens County. While energy companies likely have much more detailed information, they typically keep that data to themselves for competitive reasons.

The drilling did get down as far as the Utica, which lies about 4,000 to 6,000 feet beneath the surface in this part of southeast Ohio. (It is deeper in states to the east like Pennsylvania, but rises closer to the surface and gets thinner as it extends to the west into Ohio.) According to Wolfe, they took samples from the Utica that showed total organic content (TOC) levels two to three times what state agencies had been estimating for the shale bed in this region. TOC is considered one of the better indicators of whether an area will be productive of oil and/or gas.

However, Wolfe said, for actual oil and gas production, the well will draw from the Medina sandstone formation, which is closer to the surface than the Utica shale. Wolfe noted that the well used hydraulic fracturing, but only the vertical type – it did not utilize the higher-impact and more controversial horizontal hydro-fracking. And without horizontal fracking, he suggested, drilling the Utica at the Rome Township site wouldn't produce much output.

"What we've seen in this state is, vertically fracking the Utica doesn't seem to do much good," he said.

According to state regulations, Hayes and Wolfe had to submit a "completion report" on the well, including initial production numbers for oil and/or gas, to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources within 60 days after they completed the fracking operation. (Once an underground rock formation is broken up by hydraulic fracturing, natural pressure forces the oil and gas to the surface, with no need for further fracking.)

Their report, submitted to ODNR recently, indicates that drilling started July 9, and was completed July 17, with the well going into production Sept. 18. The report lists the producing formation as "Medina sand," and reports initial production levels as five barrels of oil and 20,000 cubic feet of gas per day. The backflow of the brine used to frack the well is also running at five barrels per day, the report says.

Wolfe said the volume of oil and gas has been gradually increasing, and thinks the well will eventually turn a profit – especially if natural gas prices, which have been depressed for some time, go back up. "It's improving daily," he said of the well's output. "I think it will be (profitable). I don't think it's quite as good as we had hoped to get."

The drillers report having used more than 66,000 gallons of water and 34,000 pounds of sand in their frack fluid, plus an acid.

The report lists all the underground formations into which the drilling penetrated, and what the result was in each case. The Berea sandstone, which the drillers hit at around 1,450 feet below the surface, had a "large gas show," the report says. The Marcellus shale, which they hit around 3,250 feet down, had a "gas show."

At nearly 5,000 feet they contacted the Medina sandstone, which had an "oil show." After they got to the Utica at more than 5,800 feet down, the report states, the contents of the formation "killed soap" at something over 6,000 feet below the surface.

Wolfe explained that sometimes drillers will inject a soap solution into an underground rock formation; in this case, the oil in the Utica-Pt. Pleasant shale "killed" or neutralized the soap, and the drillers decided not to try to use that shale bed for production.

So what Hayes and Wolfe are left with is a more or less traditional vertical well, of a type that's long been common in east and central Ohio. They do believe, however, that the promising data they collected while drilling into the Utica, and which they have turned in to the state Division of Geological Survey, may end up shifting the official view on how rich the shale bed is in the Athens County area.

All along, the main importance of the Hayes-Wolfe well wasn't so much its production value, but rather any information on carbon resources in the deep Utica shale layer. That information, at least what's available publicly, has been exceedingly rare, and has contributed to the prevailing uncertainty about whether Athens County eventually will take part in the deep-shale drilling boom that's occurring elsewhere in eastern Ohio.

Meanwhile, the Division of Geological Survey, part of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, released new maps last month updating the status of Utica shale carbon resources in Ohio. Like maps released last spring, the updated maps still show Athens County on the edge of the more promising areas for oil and gas development, with the potential resources shifting from gas to oil as you move from east to west across the county. These maps, however, apparently didn't use information from the new Hayes-Wolfe data point, so it's impossible to tell how that new information might have influenced how the maps are drawn.

These maps have played an important role in oil and gas leasing activity, with energy firms sometimes citing unpromising map findings as justification for lowballing lease offers to property owners.

 

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