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Utica bigger than Marcellus

CANONSBURG, Pa. — It’s been known for some time that the Marcellus shale is just the beginning of the natural gas horizontal fracking boom for this part of the country.

More than 200 industry members got a look at the next big thing Tuesday: The Utica shale. A variety of experts presented highlights of the Utica Shale Play Book Study, a two-year geological study conducted by the Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium, a program of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at WVU.

WVU’s Doug Patchen, consortium director and co-editor and co-author of the study, explained before the daylong workshop that the majority of the Utica play lies beneath the Marcellus Shale play — ranging from 4,000 feet below the Marcellus in Ohio to more than 6,500 feet in West Virginia. The Utica plunges as deep as 12,000 feet in West Virginia.

Attendees learned that while the play is referred to as the Utica Shale Play, the play is neither technically Utica nor purely shale. Evidence points to beds of limestone and organic-rich shale in the underlying Point Pleasant Formation as the preferred drilling target.

Because the formation sits closer to the surface in eastern Ohio, drilling activity in the Point Pleasant has been concentrated in roughly a north-south trend in eastern Ohio, where the gas is rich in oil and other liquids — such as ethane — but is moving eastward and may eventually dip south into Kentucky.

Through the end of May, attendees learned, about 2,425 permits have been issued to drill horizontal wells into (what everyone is still calling) the Utica — the lion’s share in eastern Ohio, but with about 253 in Pennsylvania and 29 in the Northern Panhandle counties of West Virginia.

Related: Utica and Marcellus activity in Ohio

The Utica footprint is slightly larger and thicker than the Marcellus (which is the largest shale oil and gas play in the nation and the second-largest in the world), Patchen said. As a result of the study, estimates for the potential recoverable Utica yield have been revised dramatically upward.

In 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the Utica could produce 38 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas and an additional 940 million barrels of oil. WVU’s study puts the current outlook for the Utica at about 782 tcf of gas and 1.96 billion barrels of oil. By way of comparison, the Marcellus yield is estimated from 500 to 800 tcf.

But all those numbers are just estimates, Patchen said. “You just don’t know until you drill.”

The various sessions were highly technical — geologic strata, rock core samples, total organic compound and carbonate content — but presenter Taury Smith, a consultant and former Devon Energy scientist, summarized the day in layman’s terms: “It’s pretty exciting to see what’s going on in the Utica. I did not see that coming.”

The consortium is a partnership of 15 industry members, four state geological surveys, two universities, one consulting company and one national lab. Members include the WVU National Research Center for Coal and Energy, Washington University, the Kentucky Geological Survey, the Ohio Geological Survey, the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, the U.S. Geological Survey, Smith Stratigraphic and the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory.

The consortium was sponsored by Anadarko, Chevron, CNX, ConocoPhillips, Devon, EnerVest, EOG Resources, EQT, Hess, NETL Strategic Center for Natural Gas and Oil, Range Resources, Seneca Resources, Shell, Southwestern Energy and Tracker Resources.

Members of the public can access the play book at aongrc.nrcce.wvu.edu. The project website is wvgs.wvnet.edu/utica.

This article was written by David Beard from The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.