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Ohio Utica Shale

New tests show potential in north-central Ohio counties

By Bob Downing Published: August 20, 2012

From the Newark Advocate and reporter Russ Zimmer:

Newly released test results continue to show at least minimal potential for productive oil and gas shale under north Central Ohio.

The new findings from the Ohio Geological Survey, a division of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, show good, sometimes great, total organic carbon readings in samples taken from Crawford, Knox, Marion, Seneca and Wyandot counties.

The problem, for those who want to see oil and gas development, is two-fold. For starters, the trapped carbon might not be smashed and cooked into oil for millions of years. Secondly, even if it is in liquid form right now, the natural forces that would push it up a well might not exist.

"The geochemical data would suggest that the potential is there from a strict geochemical standpoint," said Mac Swinford, interim state geologist and chief of the division. "There are other factors, with the biggest one being pressure."

The core sample data eventually will find its way into a new iteration of a public map, which draws the estimated productive boundaries of the Utica Shale in the state.

Swinford said the drawing of a new map -- a free resource that can be used by landowners to see how companies might value the minerals under their land -- is under way and will be released by late September.

He described the line demarking where economically viable shale production can occur as "wiggly," but said their best guess would run north and south of the west side of Columbus.

West of that line "is considered to be immature," he said. "It hasn't been heated up long enough or put under enough pressure to change the carbon into oil and gas."

The pressure created by thousands of feet of rock pressing down on the shale and the accompanying heat transform the carbon from a solid to a liquid and eventually a gas.

In the eastern half of the state, the shale layer may lie nearly a mile and a half underfoot, but westward it can be found less than a 1,000 feet below the surface. Swinford said the pressure in these shallower portions might not be enough to push any oil or liquids to the surface.

Picture a ketchup packet. When opened, the tomato-based condiment might ooze out, but stomped on, it flies out. When tapped, mature, deeply buried shale behaves like the latter, but with oil and gas as its contents and thousands of feet of rock and soil acting as the boot.

There are 300,000 feet of core samples in "the most unique library in the state" at Alum Creek State Park, Swinford said. The state allows companies to run lab tests on the cores in exchange for the findings, though they are held secret for a year to allow the company an opportunity to act on information gleaned from the research.

Private companies are not obliged to publicly share test results that do not come from the state's core library.

All this means the state's Utica Shale boundaries maps are at least a year behind and based on fewer data points than those that the landman is working from.

Still, the state takes the official map seriously. Swinford's predecessor was demoted earlier this year in part for not consulting with his superiors on updates to the map.

"The ramifications seem to be very important," Swinford said. "A lot of people look at these maps, and we have one chance."

In the western half of the state, there hasn't been much oil activity in modern times, according to Swinford, which means the division doesn't have as many samples to provide to energy firms.

This can lead to schizophrenic interpretations of the data.

The results weren't particularly encouraging for the Utica Shale at a well southwest of Bucyrus, but the Point Pleasant, which is directly below the Utica and just as alluring to horizontal drillers, has some hydrocarbon harvesting possibilities. Findings released last year showed some potential just south of North Robinson, but were decidedly more negative at a different well just a few miles to the north.

Samples from a well about 15 miles west of Marion came up poor for the Utica last year, but were stronger deeper into the Point Pleasant formation, according to the newest data.

Little testing has been completed in Richland County, although one well north of Clear Fork Reservoir showed some potential in 2011.

In the northwest corner of the state, the Michigan Basin pushes the shale down deeper, much as the Appalachian Basin does in the east. The shale is more mature there, and there is stronger evidence of oil.




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Utica and Marcellus shale web sites

Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

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.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

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.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.