Energy prospectors in Ohio’s Utica shale will need to install pump jacks or other specialized well equipment to coax crude to the surface, increasing costs to harvest an estimated 5.5 billion barrels of oil.
In the western oil-soaked section of the Utica formation, underground pressure is insufficient to force crude to the surface in commercial quantities, said Jim Pritt, a member of the Utica drilling team for EnerVest Ltd., the largest oil and gas producer in the state.
Drillers haven’t encountered similar low-pressure problems on the eastern side of the state, where output is mostly natural gas and gas liquids such as propane, ethane and butane, he said.
“In the Utica’s oil window, you’re going to need to look at moving some tools in to help lift the oil out,” Pritt said during a gathering of energy industry executives in Columbus on Tuesday.
Pump jacks, known as “nodding donkeys,” are an 87-year-old technology normally used to prolong the life of oil fields nearing depletion. Pump jacks and other artificial-lift techniques such as gas injection are used to increase pressure at the base of oil wells so crude will flow into the hole at a faster rate, increasing production.
New wells in the Bakken shale of North Dakota and Montana generate enough pressure to flow on their own for as long as two years before pump jacks or other so-called artificial-lift equipment is needed, said Jeffrey B. Hume, executive vice chairman of Continental Resources Inc., the dominant Bakken operator.
Chesapeake Energy, holder of the most drilling permits in the Eagle Ford shale in Texas, isn’t using pump jacks or similar tools on a widespread basis on oil wells in that part of Texas, said Jim Gipson, a spokesman for the Oklahoma City-based company.
Smaller explorers such as Forest Oil Corp. and Goodrich Petroleum Corp. have been using artificial lift techniques since last year to elevate production rates from some wells in the formation.
In August, Oklahoma-based Devon Energy Corp. reported that it was disappointed in its initial Utica wells in Ohio’s Medina and Ashland counties.
The results from the wells in Medina County’s Harrisville Township and Ashland County’s Clear Creek Township “were not encouraging,” said spokesman David Hager.
The firm is continuing to drill a well in Knox County’s Morgan Township and has filed a permit to drill in Wayne County’s East Union Township.
Devon has been drilling farther to the west than most wells being drilled in Ohio’s Utica shale. It had staked out leases farther west than other drilling companies and was focusing on oil, not natural gas or natural gas liquids.
Devon Energy said it intends to continue drilling in Ohio’s Utica shale but is looking to move eastward.
Most of the Utica drilling has been through wells in Carroll, Harrison, Columbiana, Jefferson, Mahoning, Stark, Portage and Belmont counties. That area has been especially attractive because the prices paid for natural gas have dropped and drillers are finding such gas liquids as ethane, butane and propane.
Ohio’s Utica shale holds recoverable reserves equal to 5.5 billion barrels of oil and 15.7 trillion cubic feet of gas, according to a 2011 estimate from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. At current prices, the oil would have a value of $484 billion.
Collapsing prices for gas and liquids have accelerated the shift to the western side of the formation where there’s more higher-profit crude, the experts said.
Anadarko Petroleum Corp. has had the biggest successes so far in the oil-prone section of the Utica, Byrne said. During the first quarter, the Texas-based company’s Brookfield well in Noble County had initial 24-hour production equivalent to 731 barrels of crude, 82 percent of which was comprised of crude and an oil-like substance called condensate, he said.