Dry Gas Stacks Up in Marcellus, Utica Plays

PITTSBURGH -- The ability to drill in not just one shale play but in multiple levels of shale rock from a single well pad stands to increase oil and gas production across Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, executives say.

"There's several advantages to the stacked plays," reported Tim Dugan, chief operating officer at Consol Energy Inc., here. "It enhances the economics and improves the rate of return."

Dugan was among a host of speakers Wednesday at the 2014 DUG East Conference, sponsored by Hart Energy, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center downtown.

Consol is concentrating on areas in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays where the formations overlap. In some cases, the company has staked out positions that allow drilling opportunities in three plays -- the Marcellus, Utica and the Upper Devonian, he said.

"Should a Marcellus well start to decline, we can then come back and drill Upper Devonian or Utica wells off that same pad," Dugan told The Business Journal.

Consol, for example, has started its drilling program on 9,000 acres at the Pittsburgh International Airport, an area that Dugan says contains opportunities in all three plays, as do the company's leasehold acres in southwestern Pennsylvania.

"As you move south into West Virginia, you have both Marcellus and Upper Devonian," Dugan said, while in eastern Ohio, including Monroe County, there exist opportunities for drilling in both the Marcellus and Utica from a single pad.

The prospects for tapping into additional plays could significantly boost production from a single pad, Dugan said. "We would have expectations of having upwards of 24 wells on a pad," he projected.

However, additional engineering, infrastructure and technological improvements would be required to make it happen. "There's a lot of work that would go into that,” Dugan said, “but the upside of the stacked plays will make it well worth it to invest in those technologies."

As for the upper region of the Utica shale, Dugan said Consol plans to connect pipelines to three wells it drilled in Mahoning County two years ago. "We're currently laying pipelines to two pads," he reported, "so they will be turned inline later this year."

Energy companies exploring the Utica in Ohio have concentrated their efforts on the southern tier, rather than the northern, generally considered the area north of Carroll County.

Consol closed its offices March 31 in Leetonia in Columbiana County and has consolidated its operations in St. Clairsville so it can concentrate on the southeastern tier of the Utica.

In the western Utica counties, there is the potential to tap into the oil window of the play as technology advances. "It's going to require some advancements in completion technology to make the oil window economical,” Dugan said, “but it's not an area we've given up on."

Other producers see the rise in natural gas prices as a big boost for dry gas exploration in the Utica and Marcellus.

"It's going to be a good year in Appalachia," declared Jeffrey Ventura, president and CEO of Range Resources, the first company to successfully drill a horizontal well in the Marcellus.

Wet gas -- gas that can be converted into ethane, butane or propane -- is evident in southwestern Pennsylvania, most notably in Washington County, and in the southeastern Utica/Point Pleasant formations in Ohio.

The company saw 20% to 25% production growth in 2014, he said.

In the Utica, some of the production of natural gas liquids has underperformed, Ventura reported. However, the dry gas wells have surged at alarming rates, he noted.

"You have some really prolific gas wells," Ventura said. "The most recent one tested at 40 million [cubic feet] a day."

Range Resources holds about one million acres under lease in Pennsylvania and is preparing to drill its first well in the Utica/Point Pleasant strata soon, Ventura said. The company produces one billion cubic feet of natural gas per day.

"You never know until you drill," Ventura said of the Utica. "But it certainly has the right ingredients."

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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