Utica Shale holds 20 times more gas than previously thought – study finds

Gas field well head
Source: DollarPhotoClub

Utica Shale – a shale formation which lies beneath the Marcellus – is likely to hold much more potentially recoverable oil and gas reserves that it was previously thought, according to a study released Tuesday, July 14th, at a workshop in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

The results of a research partnership organized by West Virginia University estimate Utica’s technically recoverable volumes at 782 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1,960 million barrels of oil. This is a far cry from the previous assessments carried out in 2012 by the U.S. Geological Survey which estimated the technically recoverable undiscovered resources at 38 trillion cubic feet of gas, 940 million barrels of oil and 208 million barrels of natural gas liquids such as ethane, butane and propane.

The Consortium’s director – Douglas Patchen – whose own previous estimates were also lower from the newly-released numbers said: “The revised resource numbers are impressive, comparable to the numbers for the more established Marcellus Shale play, and a little surprising based on our Utica estimates of just a year ago, which were lower.”

“But this is why we continued to work on the resource estimates after the project officially ended a year ago,” he continued. “The more wells that are drilled, the more the play area may expand, and another year of production from the wells enables researchers to make better estimates.”

As Utica stretches beneath parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states, the assessment covered several states, but began in Ohio, where there is no Marcellus, and where most of the drilling continues. The depth of the Utica play varies from state to state, but in West Virginia the drilling has already begun.

“There have been Utica wells drilled in West Virginia,” said Patchen. “That Western side of the state then as you come Eastward it gets deeper, so the first place it’s probably going to be drilled is where it’s shallower.”

“It looks like the Utica play is going to rival the Marcellus as far as the quantity of gas and in the play both in West Virginia, and in adjoining states as well,” said Michael Hohn of the WV Geological and Economic Survey. “So it is good for the economy of the region and in Northern West Virginia.”

Speaking to The Exponent Telegram, Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said that the exploration companies will, in time, learn the best way to explore the Utica, much in a similar way that they did with the Marcellus. When that happens, the Utica explorers will benefit from the infrastructure already developed for the Marcellus.

“We get smarter every day we’re out here drilling, so we will produce these formations. We tried to produce the Marcellus vertically for years, and we got little yield back,” DeMarco said. “Every one of these formations have different characteristics. Those characteristics may vary by location, so we get smarter about what it takes to produce that formation and where that formation is.”

“You may be targeting the Marcellus from your well pads, but you also know that below that is the Utica, so when you have produced all the Marcellus out of that area that you can produce, you may try to produce the Utica out of that same well pad. They’ve got the pad, they’ve got the pipeline and they’ve got the road in, so if the geology is correct in the area in which they drill, they’ll drill other formations.”

The two-year geological study was conducted by the Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium, a program within WVU’s National Research Center for Coal and Energy.

According to a WVU press release, the consortium’s members are: 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.

The full study can be downloaded here.

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