By Marc Kovac
Eighty-seven wells extending horizontally into eastern Ohio’s underground shale formations produced nearly 26.7 million gallons of oil — nearly 636,000 barrels — and 12.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas last year, according to a report released by state officials Thursday.
The new production numbers are in line with earlier estimates of the potential impact of horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, into the state’s Utica Shale formation and marked increases of 93 percent and 80 percent for oil and gas, respectively, from volumes reported in 2011.
And state officials are projecting that oil and gas produced from horizontal wells could outpace conventional vertical wells within three years, with about 1,000 of the new wells expected to be in production by 2015.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer said the results mark “the beginning of a historic era of oil and gas production.”
He added, “The production from these initial Utica wells makes a compelling statement about the staggering amount of oil and gas resources Ohio shale may contain. ... We believe that we are on the onset of a new boom.”
Carroll County, called by some the epicenter of the state’s fracking activities, led in the number of wells in production in 2012 with 41.
Guernsey County had six, Columbiana and Noble counties had five, and Stark and Tuscarawas counties had two. Mahoning, Portage, Wayne and Ashland were among counties with single horizontal wells.
A dozen companies had wells in production; more than 50 belonged to Chesapeake Exploration LLC.
One Utica well is producing as much oil as 312 conventional wells and as much natural gas as 448 conventional wells.
Additionally, the fracked wells accounted for 12 percent and 16 percent, respectively, of the state’s total oil and gas production in 2012, though the number of conventional wells (nearly 51,000) far outpaced horizontal ones.
“Utica Shale production is skyrocketing,” Zehringer said. “These wells make up only two-tenths of 1 percent of all the wells in Ohio, yet last year they produced 12 percent of the oil and 16 percent of the natural gas in Ohio.”
He added later, “That’s a lot of homes heated, a lot of water warmed, a lot of gasoline refined for Ohio families.”
Among other information included in Thursday’s report:
Twenty-seven companies have sought state permits for horizontal wells. Only four have not yet begun to drill, said Rick Simmers, chief of ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resource Management.
More than 688,000 barrels (nearly 2.9 million gallons) of wastewater brine has been produced from fracking activities for wells in production. Most of that likely was disposed of via injection wells, though Simmers said companies are recycling more of the fluid for reuse in future fracking activities.
Though 87 wells were reported to be in production in 2012, not all of those are active. Seventy-four wells were in production for less than six months, and 32 had less than a month of production. Three wells were actually plugged after being tested. And more wells have gone into production during the current year that are not included in the 2012 report, Simmers said.
At any given time, 30-32 rigs are involved drilling new wells in the state. The time involved to dig each well has decreased from about 30 or more days at the start of the Utica activities to 17-20 days now, Simmers said.
A total of 660 permits, good for up to two years, have been issued to date, with more than 300 horizontal wells already drilled. State officials expect drilling and production to increase as facilities and infrastructure are completed to process the oil and gas produced from the Utica formation.