A new, third layer of shale deep beneath the surface of western Pennsylvania is showing promise as a source of natural gas.
It might not prove to be as lucrative as the Marcellus or Utica shales, but CONSOL Energy Inc. says it is thrilled by the Upper Devonian rocks, a mixture of shale and sandstone layers that could become an added energy source.
The company recently announced it successfully has drilled its first natural gas well in that earth layer in southwest Pennsylvania. Initial results for natural gas are very promising, the company said July 15 in a statement.
CONSOL is the third drilling company to tap into the Upper Devonian in Pennsylvania, a move that could provide a boost to shale production and adds to the growing promise of the formation.
On Thursday, Pittsburgh-based EQT Corp. became the fourth player. It announced that it has drilled eight wells in that rock in Pennsylvania, four of which are complete. It expects to drill 22 Upper Devonian wells this year, officials said.
"It’s still very early, but we’re very excited about the potential, especially in southwestern Pennsylvania," Matt Pitzarella of Range Resources, another energy company involved in the Upper Devonian drilling, told Energy in Depth, a pro-drilling industry group.
Specifically, CONSOL Energy drilled its well into the Burkett shale, the deepest of numerous Upper Devonian shales.
It lies above the Marcellus shale generally at a depth of 6,000 to 6,500 feet below the surface.
Burkett shale spreads into West Virginia but does not appear in Ohio, said geologist Steve Opritza, program manager for permitting for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.
Some drillers in Ohio are eyeing the Rhinestreet shale that is 60 to 80 feet above the Marcellus shale, but no one has gone after it, he said.
To date, about 20 wells have been drilled into the Upper Devonian shales in Pennsylvania, according to Energy in Depth’s Pittsburgh office.
CONSOL Energy’s first exploration hit the Burkett shale at 12,490 feet deep in Greene County, the company said in its quarterly operations update. The lateral runs about 4,889 feet.
The well produces about 3 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, about a third of what two nearby Marcellus wells produce, the company said.
The well was drilled, in part, to test interactions between the Upper Devonian well and five deeper Marcellus wells and to benefit from company surface infrastructure, CONSOL Energy said.
Industry-wide, gas transportation capacity has been growing rapidly because of significant discoveries in Utica and Marcellus shale formations.
The company had drilled through the Upper Devonian repeatedly in drilling Marcellus and Utica wells that are all deeper, officials said.
CONSOL Energy estimated that it controls about 300,000 acres of Upper Devonian shale with commercial potential in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The company is also active in Ohio’s Utica shale.
Rex Energy got similar production from an Upper Devonian well it drilled last year in Pennsylvania’s Butler County, said the company, based in State College, Pa. It is also involved in Ohio drilling.
Texas-based Range Resources has drilled four wells in Pennsylvania’s Washington County. Its latest well is producing about 4 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, in addition to 172 barrels of oil and 826 barrels of natural gas liquids. That is equal to 10 million cubic feet of oil equivalents per day.
Range Resources is the No. 2 player in Pennsylvania in the Marcellus and Utica shales. It is not drilling in Ohio.
It drilled its first Burkett shale well in 2009. At that time, company officials said drillers might be able to successfully tap all three shales. It was hailed as a potential triple play for drillers.
Developing the Upper Devonian shales will take decades, Pitzarella said. "We are still very much in the early stages and these formations will take generations to fully develop," he said in a statement.
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.