If commercially recoverable natural gas exists throughout the area, this shale could be one of the largest known natural gas fields.
by Lori K. Ditoro
February 5, 2013

The oil and gas boom in North America is not slowing. A shift is occurring from natural gas production to producing liquid hydrocarbons. However, as natural gas prices rebound, operators will return to natural gas production and activity in natural gas shale plays will increase. According to Baker Hughes, 31 rigs were in operation in the area (week of Jan. 18, 2013).1

According to www.geology.com, the Utica Shale, a rock layer a few thousand feet below the Marcellus Shale (see Upstream Pumping Solutions, Summer 2011), is capable of producing commercial quantities of natural gas, natural gas liquids and crude oil.2 The Utica Shale is much deeper than the Marcellus—in some areas more than 2 miles below sea level. The thickness of the Utica rock layer is from less than 100 feet to more than 500 feet. It extends across the Appalachian Basin and is located in portions of:

  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

The play also lies beneath parts of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and into Ontario, Canada. If hydrocarbon quantities prove to be commercially viable throughout the entire shale, it could be one of the largest known gas fields in the world.

While considered a natural gas giant, the play also produces oil and natural gas liquids. Currently, most of the drilling has been in Ohio, where dry and liquid hydrocarbon production is possible. Estimates for potential recoverable hydrocarbons in the play are 1.3 to 5.5 billion barrels of oil and 3.8 to 15.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Challenges facing operators who want to tap into the Utica’s vast potential are its depth and the limited information that is currently available on the total organic content of the rock. Operators must also find and develop talented employees. This activity has increased employment opportunities, particularly in Ohio, where most of operations are occurring.

The drop in Ohio’s unemployment during the past two years indicates that Utica Shale development is creating jobs. The unemployment rate was 6.5 percent in compared to an 8.6 percent rate through 2011 and 10 percent unemployment in 2010.

“‘That’s directly tied to development of the Utica Shale,’ said Dan Alfaro, spokesman for Energy In Depth, an industry trade group.”3

As in most unconventional plays, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing will be employed. For more information on drilling, completion and production in the Utica Shale, see Doug Walser’s Report from the Field, “Hydraulic Fracturing in the Utica Shale,” on page 29.

1  Baker Hughes, www.bakerhughes.com, Jan. 18, 2013

www.geology.com, Jan. 20, 2013.

3  Pritchard, Edd. “Energy companies looking for locals to join work force,”  www.CantonRep.com, Jan. 13, 2013.

www.uticashaleblog.com, Jan. 19, 2013.