New Map Brings Utica Play into Sharper Focus
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – After more than a year of drilling in the Utica shale in eastern Ohio, energy companies have a better understanding of the areas that hold the most potential for oil and gas exploration.
Updated maps posted last week on the website of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources show that the core of the play takes up most of the eastern portion of the state, but they also depict possible "hot spots" further west.
One map that details the total organic carbon found in drill cuttings and core samples collected by energy companies over the last year it shows that so far, the geology of southwestern Mahoning County rates near "excellent" when it comes to the potential of producing oil, dry gas, or natural gas liquids.
In Trumbull County, the geology rates "very good," but data on this part of Ohio are still being developed, and are not as detailed as other counties to the south where drilling in the Utica is much more active.
"Every well tells a story, and that's what we're seeing here," says Shawn Bennett, spokesman for Energy In Depth, an organization that promotes and provides outreach education related to the oil and gas industry.
As more wells are drilled in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, more precise information on what these regions hold would be forthcoming.
Bennett said energy companies drilling new wells send data retrieved from core samples and cuttings to the U.S. Geological Survey to be published. Last year, ODNR released a similar map that showed some of the possible boundaries of the Utica shale.
By this time next year, more should be known about the potential of the Utica play in Mahoning and Trumbull where just a handful of wells have been drilled.
Much of the drilling activity so far is concentrated along a corridor that stretches south from Columbiana County to Noble County. However, the updated map suggests that the carbon potential in the Utica casts a much wider net across eastern Ohio and the central part of the state.
"We only had a handful of data points last year," Bennett said. "We've got more this year, and we're seeing a nice play shape up in eastern Ohio."
But he cautions against making definitive conclusions based on these maps because exploration of the Utica is in its infancy and there is still much more information that isn't known about the play.
In a disclaimer posted along with the maps, ODNR stated that the contour lines depicted "are interpretive and may not reflect geological conditions. These lines may be modified at a later date and should not be considered absolute or final."
Bennett said although there could well be strong carbon content in the shale rock in areas to the west such as Wynadot County -- where geologists believe holds the best chance of a productive oil window -- there also needs to be sufficient pressure to bring this resource to the surface.
"If the pressure isn't there, it isn't fruitful," he said. "But it's good context for the future. As technology develops, it could be possible to extract this."
Many variables are associated with oil and gas exploration other than carbon content in the shale, Bennett says, including depth and the maturity of the rock.
Regardless, Bennett said, the latest map confirms that the eastern portion of the state probably holds the best reserves of natural gas and natural gas-liquids.
"Next year, these maps will change and be even more refined," he said. "All of it is exciting news for eastern Ohio."
Copyright 2013 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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