A great deal of attention is directed at successful Utica shale wells in eastern Ohio, but there’s another side to the story.
A total of nine wells, including three in the Akron-Canton area, have been plugged — a sign of failure — by drilling companies over the past two years.
It is proof that energy companies face big risks in drilling, industry officials said.
Locally, the plugged wells include a Devon Energy Corp. site in Medina County’s Harrisville Township and two Chesapeake Energy wells: one in Portage County’s Suffield Township and one in Stark County’s Paris Township.
Under state rules, plugged wells are abandoned permanently and are sealed with concrete. Their status shows up on a weekly report on drilling permits from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Devon Energy also plugged a well in Ashland County.
The company, without offering specifics, reported this summer that preliminary results from the Medina and Ashland wells were disappointing. Officials said they would shift attention to the natural gas liquids-rich area in eastern Ohio counties.
The Oklahoma-based company is also drilling in Knox, Coshocton, Holmes and Guernsey counties. Such wells can cost between $5 million and $10 million each.
Poor production appeared to be the reason the two Devon wells were scrapped, said Heidi Hetzel-Evans of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.
State personnel report that the other seven plugged wells appear to be mostly cases of "lost holes," she said, calling it "the most common reason that wells get abandoned at this stage in Ohio drilling."
A "lost hole" is the industry term for drilling that is halted because of technical problems that cannot be corrected, state spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle said.
An example, she said, would be if the drill bit broke off and could not be recovered.
In such a case, the well would be properly abandoned and the company would be forced to start over again on drilling, McCorkle said.
"This is very costly and does not happen that often," she said of abandoning and plugging wells.
Dan Alfaro of Energy in Depth-Ohio, a pro-drilling group, likened a lost well to a Ford Motor Co. assembly line that stops production and moves to a new site because of a problem. Such lost wells can be created by "myriad’ reasons, he said.
"There are no guarantees in drilling wells," Alfaro said.
In addition to the Portage and Stark wells, Chesapeake also plugged a well in Carroll County’s Center Township.
"Chesapeake has not permanently plugged any producing Utica shale wells," spokesman Pete Kenworthy said. "The wells in question were plugged very early in the drilling process so a new hole could be drilled."
The other wells that have been plugged are two wells by West Virginia-based HG Energy LLC in Monroe County and two wells by Colorado-based Antero Resources in Noble County.
Those nine wells represent a fraction of what’s happening in 21 counties in eastern Ohio.
To date, the state has approved 485 Utica shale permits. A total of 196 horizontal wells have been drilled and hydraulically fractured, or fracked. A total of 45 wells are producing natural gas, oil and the natural gas liquids ethane, butane and propane.
Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.
Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.
Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.
The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.
Earthjustice, a national eco-group.
People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.
Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.
No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.
Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.
Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.
Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.