Obituaries   |   Area Deaths   |   Crime Watch   |   Celebrations   |   Real Estate Transfers   |   Permits

New map showing revised gas-oil drilling prospects in Ohio creates stir

By Bob Downing
Beacon Journal staff writer

A relatively simple multi-colored map is creating a buzz in eastern Ohio.

Some counties’ residents are ecstatic at the possibility they might be sitting atop lucrative deposits of natural gas/oil products. Others are dismayed to learn smaller volumes of gas and oil might lie deep under their feet than previously estimated.

At the center of what’s happening is a newly released map from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Geological Survey. It shows excellent drilling potential under much of Stark County. Large tracts of Tuscarawas, Coshocton and Trumbull counties also rate excellent. So, too, does eastern Portage County.

Larry Wickstrom, one of four men involved in developing the map, says he is a little flabbergasted by all the attention it is getting.

The map is “just the addition of new information ... and fine-tuning what we have,” he said. It is merely the state’s best guess as to what might be found thousands of feet underground.

Areas outside the main development area could still be productive, he advised, and the map probably will change as state geologists get even more information.

The map, relying on new data, shows a slightly different footprint in eastern Ohio for Utica shale, identifying a core area for drilling that covers 10.8 million acres from Ashtabula County south into Guernsey County.

Much of the drilling in Ohio has been located in Carroll, Harrison, Columbiana and Jefferson counties. Those four counties generally rate good to very good, according to the new data.

Summit, Medina, Wayne and Portage counties are all in the good area. Most of Cuyahoga, Lake and Lorain counties are now excluded.

The map was unveiled to little fanfare in March at a statewide meeting of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and has gotten increasing attention as word of its existence has spread. It is based largely on the level of hydrocarbons found in Utica shale cores the state owns.

Over the years, more than 40,000 wells have been drilled through the Utica shale to deeper formations. The state has stored those core samples at Alum Creek State Park near Delaware.

Occasionally, researchers would sample the cores. Then about three years ago, the samples started generating increased interest from drilling companies.

Companies took core samples to have them analyzed in their labs. Because they paid for the studies, the companies were allowed to keep their research private for a year before giving the data to the state.

As the information began trickling in, state geologists took the new data and began revising its maps.

To date, energy companies have drilled 60 horizontal wells into the Utica shale in Ohio, and a total of 194 permits have received state approval. That total includes 10 permits in Stark, six in Portage and one in Medina counties.

State officials have predicted that more than 2,250 wells could be drilled in Ohio by the end of 2015.

One big question that remains unanswered is whether there is enough pressure in the western part of the Utica shale formation, where it is thinner, to send oil up well shafts, Wickstrom said.

Most of the drilling companies have not begun to prospect the potentially oil-rich area that generally lies west of Interstate 77.

The exception is Oklahoma-based Devon Energy Corp., which has applied for state permits for wells in Medina, Ashland and Knox counties. The company has said it is more interested in Ohio’s oil than its natural gas.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. is the No. 1 player in Ohio and is attracted by the so-called wet gases: ethane, butane and propane that are found in Utica shale. That makes Ohio financially attractive at a time when natural gas prices remain very low.

Records show landowners can get signing bonuses of up to $5,800 an acre plus royalties as high as 21 percent on what’s produced by wells. The average leasing bonus in Ohio is about $2,500 an acre.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.