Carroll County is the reigning Utica shale capital of Ohio.
With 319 wells permitted, Carroll represents nearly 38 percent of the 858 wells the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has approved since late 2010.
Chesapeake Energy, the No. 1 driller in Ohio, staked out early and extensive claims in Carroll and surrounding counties: Columbiana, Portage and Stark. Today the Oklahoma-based energy giant, the No. 2 producer of natural gas in the United States, has a total of 503 permits in eastern Ohio. That’s nearly 59 percent of the statewide total.
But the interest from drillers is shifting and extending to the south in a big way: into Harrison, Belmont, Monroe, Guernsey and Noble counties. Those five counties have become the drilling hot spot in eastern Ohio.
Of Ohio’s 2013 Utica shale permits, 48.2 percent have been issued to energy companies interested in those five counties, and that is not not Chesapeake’s stronghold, according to a Beacon Journal review of state data.
Harrison County leads the way with 124 permits since 2010, followed by Noble County with 62, according to information from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Oil & Gas Resources Management.
Belmont County has 45 permits. Monroe County has 33, and Guernsey County has 50.
Washington County — even farther south — has an additional seven permits.
"It’s obvious that drillers are paying a lot of attention to the south," said Youngstown State University geology professor Jeffrey Dick. "That’s where their interest is, right now."
The southward movement is not a surprise. Oklahoma-based Gulfport Energy has reported highly successful wells with natural gas, petroleum and liquids like ethane, butane and propane in Harrison and Belmont counties, he said.
Colorado-based Antero Resources also reported good initial well production data in the southern counties, he said.
Antero reportedly has the biggest-producing well: the Yontz well in Monroe County. It is producing 38.9 million cubic feet of natural gas per day or 8,879 barrels of oil equivalents per day. That’s valued at $300,000 per day.
The previous high in Ohio was Gulfport’s Shugert well in Belmont County with 28.5 million cubic feet of day per day or 7,482 barrels of oil equivalents.
Companies like Hess Corporation, Rex Energy, PDC Energy, Anadarko Petroleum, Carizzo, EQT Production, Devon Energy, PDC Energy, Atlas Noble, Chevron Appalachia, HG Energy, Eclipse Resources, Hall Drilling, XTO, Triad Hunter LLC. and CNX Gas Co. have moved into the five counties.
They could secure leases, unlike in Carroll County where Chesapeake had locked up most available land earlier.
Analysts said that Chesapeake officials reported that the company had misjudged the Utica shale and erred in not realizing that the fairway — an industry term for where to drill — extended southward from Carroll and Harrison counties where it is strong into the other counties.
There are more signs of the shale boom in the southern counties.
Antero Resources has plans to build a $500 million pipeline to transport water from the Ohio River to its drilling sites in Ohio and West Virginia for hydraulic fracturing or fracking.
Former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon and his new company, American Energy Partners, are reported to be buying 22,535 acres in leases in Harrison, Guernsey and Noble counties from EnerVest Ltd. for $284.3 million. McClendon’s company is also reportedly the high bidder for 50,000 acres in Ohio now held by Shell.
A Houston company, Wunderlich Securities Inc., reported last week that it is convinced that Washington County will become the Utica hot spot.
Youngstown State’s Dick said there is theory that Ohio’s southern wells are so productive because the geology is different.
In the northern part of the window, there has been significant drilling in the past with vertical-only wells in the shallow Clinton sandstone, he said.
In southern Ohio, there is no Clinton sandstone and that has resulted in less drilling in the past, he said.
That could contribute to the significant production coming from southern wells, but more research is needed, Dick said.
The drillers are most interested in six or seven of the 23 Ohio counties where Utica wells have been drilled, said Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association.
The desired strip for natural gas and liquids is really a narrow north-south band that is about three townships wide, he said.
Natural gas is likely to be found to the east of that band and oil is likely to the west, Stewart said.
Gas drilling to the east will likely resume when gas prices climb higher, he said.
The fear is that the oil area is shallower with less pressure and may be less productive, he said.
"It looks like the (oil) geology doesn’t match up the hype," he said.
That means Ohio is more likely to produce gas and natural gas liquids and less oil, which is the most desirable product for drillers. And that’s still a very good thing, he said.
It is still unclear what will happen at the northern end of that band, Stewart said.
BP and Halcon Inc. have moved into Trumbull County. Hilcorp Energy Corp. has growing interests in Mahoning County.
Mountaineer Keystone grabbed leases in eastern Portage County. Those projects are slowly getting under way.
Drilling interest is waning in some Ohio counties, as the drillers continue to hone in on the liquid-rich shale window.
Zero permits have been issued this year for Stark County. It had nine permits in 2012 and four in 2011.
Portage County has one permit this year. It had 10 permits in 2012 and four in 2011.
Tuscarawas County has one permit this year. That contrasts with nine in 2012 and three in 2011.
Permits have declined from 18 in 2012 to five in 2013 in Jefferson County and from 52 to 23 in Columbiana County. Columbiana is No. 3 in Ohio with 83 permits.
Other counties with no new permitting activity in 2013 are: Ashland, Coshocton, Geauga, Holmes, Knox, Medina, Muskingum and Wayne.
The southern counties are seeing more permits filed, which is likely to translate into more horizontal wells to be drilled.
Harrison County had 53 permits in 2012 and already has 70 this year.
It has a total of 123, making it No. 2 in Ohio.
Belmont County had 10 permits in 2012 and 35 have been filed this year.
Guernsey County had 15 permits in 2012 and already has 29 permits this year.
Noble County has jumped from 16 in 2012 to 42 this year,
Monroe County had 17 last year and already has 13 this year.
Some companies may get a permit but not drill right away, waiting for the completion of natural gas lines in an area.
The permits are good for two years and will be revoked by the state if no action takes place.
But the Ohio drilling picture could change.
That’s because at least four of the original Ohio drillers are interested in selling all or part of their Ohio holdings.
That includes debt-ridden Chesapeake, Devon Energy, Anadarko Petroleum and EnerVest Ltd. and its partners want to sell all or part of their Ohio leases.
What’s happening in Ohio is a repositioning that is common in the energy business, said Ohio State University geology professor Jeff Daniels.
"It’s the nature of the business: assets shift, as companies try to better their positions. It’s not a cause for concern," he said. "What’s happening in Ohio is going to continue. It’s not ending. It’s just changing."
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.