New study shows greater potential for Utica Shale

The Utica Shale and associated hydrocarbon-rich rock zones hold significantly more potentially recoverable natural gas than early estimates predicted, according to research released Tuesday at a workshop in Canonsburg.

It turns out, according to the new study’s estimates, the total Utica Shale play could hold technically recoverable volumes of 782 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and nearly 2 billion barrels of oil.

The estimates from a research partnership organized by West Virginia University represent the average of a wider range of possibly recoverable amounts of oil and gas in the Utica, which stretches beneath parts of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states and includes neighboring oil- and gas-bearing geologic layers.

A 2012 U.S. Geological Survey assessment of the Utica Shale and underlying Point Pleasant formation pegged 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 new assessment is also higher than estimates the researchers had calculated a year ago, when they determined that 188.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 830 million barrels of oil could be extracted from the Utica play using existing technology. Those year-old numbers also were released publicly for the first time Tuesday.

The research partnership organized by WVU includes members from oil and gas companies, the U.S. Geological Survey and four state geological surveys, universities, a consulting company and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

It was sponsored by NETL and 14 industry partners.

The project was spearheaded by Doug Patchen, director of the Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium at WVU, who said the first version of the study was released to the industry partners last year and kept confidential.

“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,” Mr. Patchen said.

Kristin Carter, a co-editor of the report and a geologist with the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, said that while earlier U.S. Geological Survey assessments of the Utica play were already promising, the new numbers “show that it’s just as promising if not more than what we originally thought.”

Even the much lower, year-old figures from the research team elicited a “Wow!” from Terry Engelder, a Penn State University geosciences professor, who was not involved in this study. His early assessments helped draw attention to the wealth of gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale.

He said in an email before the revised figures were released that the year-old Utica study numbers were likely very conservative because they could not have accounted for many of the largest wells drilled during the past 12 months. The figures “might make the Utica gas play second only to the Marcellus in the USA,” he said.

The Utica Shale, which lies a mile deeper than the Marcellus Shale in some spots, is actually less of a preferred drilling target than its close neighbors the Point Pleasant formation and another geologic zone known as the Logana member of the Lexington/​Trenton formation, the researchers said.

Mr. Patchen said that while the resource assessment section of the study will get most of the attention, the work to characterize the nuances of the geologic zones stretched from the broadest picture to the tiniest microscopic pores in the rock. That detail will be particularly valuable for geologists and engineers trying to determine how to get the most oil and gas from the basin.

Laura Legere:

First Published July 14, 2015 8:00 AM

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