SUFFIELD TWP.: A farm field off Congress Lake Road is at the local epicenter of Ohio's developing drilling boom for natural gas.
Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Exploration LLC wants to drill a vertical well that will help the company analyze the underground geology up to 6,600 feet deep in southwest Portage County.
Later that well might be extended horizontally, south under Congress Lake into Stark County. The company intends to use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to free up the natural gas.
It's a fact: Ohio's search for natural gas is spreading into the Akron-Canton area. The Suffield site is one of three locally to win approval from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Mineral Resources Management.
Preliminary results elsewhere indicate that Ohio's Utica shales could generate a big energy and economic boost for Ohio.
Ohio drillers are beginning a testing-and-evaluation process and most production probably won't start until next year, said Jonathan Airey, an energy attorney in Columbus with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP.
The Suffield site is west of Congress Lake Road, south of Swartz Road and north of Hartville and Quail Hollow State Park.
The state permit will enable the company to drill what's called a stratigraphic well to provide ''detailed geologic data,'' company spokesman Matt Sheppard said.
Drilling could begin by midsummer, he said. It will take three to four weeks to prepare the site of three to five acres, then three to five weeks to drill the well.
It would join numerous wells being drilled in Ohio by Chesapeake, Sheppard said.
The company will ''utilize the data we get from drilling those wells to make a determination about future activity and specific locations,'' he said.
Water details remain
Chesapeake is still working out the details on getting the needed fresh water to the Suffield site. The company would prefer to pipe water in via a temporary waterline. The alternative would be truck water in, he said. The water would be recycled and reused.
He declined to say how much acreage the company has under lease near the proposed well.
The company has invested $1 billion to lease 1.2 million acres in Ohio. It expects to add 300,000 acres and could develop as many as 12,000 wells in the state.
Similar drilling requests from Texas-based EnerVest Ltd. in Marlboro Township in northern Stark County and from Oklahoma-based Ohio Buckeye Energy in Harrisville Township in southern Medina County have received state approval.
The Stark site covers 336 acres on land south of state Route 619 on the border between Marlboro and Lexington townships. The well would be 5,581 feet deep and would extend horizontally about 4,000 feet and drop to 6,500 feet.
40 acres in Medina
The 40-acre Medina site is southwest of Lodi near Greenwich and Congress roads. It would go to a depth of 4,856 feet.
It was among the first wave of permits approved by the state last fall.
Getting natural gas from the Utica shale at the three sites might not begin for months — perhaps never.
The state permits allow the companies to begin core borings and other testing to determine whether they want to proceed with drilling a vertical-horizontal well that could cost $5 million to $6 million. Multiple wells could be developed at each site.
As of June 17, Ohio has approved 76 vertical-drilling permits for the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in eastern Ohio, with 43 of those wells drilled. The state has issued 21 permits for horizontal wells, of which 11 have been drilled.
Typically, a drilling company seeks a vertical permit first, investigates whether it wants to proceed, then seeks a horizontal permit for hydraulic fracturing, said Heidi Hetzel Evans, a spokeswoman for the state agency.
Utica shales promising
Drilling companies keep test results secret, but it appears preliminary results from Ohio's Utica shale are promising, with natural gas and what's called wet or high-grade petroleum-based products, including propane, butane, ethane and white gas, being found, said Tom Tomastik, Ohio Natural Resources Department senior geologist.
Such materials typically sell for about $5 less per barrel than petroleum. They are highly desirable and lucrative, he said.
Tomastik said initial reports indicate ''pretty decent results'' for the Utica shale, although drillers are still in exploratory stages.
Such results would be great economic news for Ohio, said Tom Stewart, executive director of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, based in Granville with 1,500 members.
He said he was told by one company's chief executive, whom he would not identify, that the first tests of Ohio's Utica shale were ''very encouraging.''
Stewart said he has heard the Ohio shale is ''liquid rich.'' That could mean significant new petroleum resources.
It is possible Ohio has a new major oil and gas field in the Utica shale that can be tapped for the first time with new drilling technology, he said.
Such results, if proven, would provide Ohio drillers with fuel more valuable than natural gas, Airey said.
Big players arrive
Big players are getting involved in what's happening in Ohio: Chevron, Shell, Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Oklahoma-based Devon Energy and others, Stewart said.
The American Chemical Council and its members are especially interested in the Utica shale because ethane is a major component of plastic production.
EnerVest offered little comment about test results from its exploratory drilling in Ohio.
But Ron Whitmire, director of business development and corporate communications, did say the company's scientists are ''pretty excited'' by initial results.
He said it was ''way too premature'' to offer an accurate assessment of the potential of Ohio's Utica shale.
Whitmire's company — the No. 1 gas and oil producer in Ohio with 8,700 wells — intends to drill 10 to 12 horizontal wells in the state in the next six to 12 months, he said.
The success of those wells will determine whether the privately held company proceeds with major drilling into Ohio's Utica shale, he said.
The company has 1.2 million acres under lease in Ohio, he said.
It is unclear when the site in Marlboro Township might be drilled because the company has not determined in what order the 10 to 12 sites will be developed, Whitmire said.
Ohio's shale boom is spreading beyond the Ohio River counties, where Marcellus shale was the initial focus, to Tuscarawas, Ashland, Knox and Licking counties.
The Marcellus boom began in Pennsylvania in 2008. Since then, about 3,300 wells have been drilled into the dark shale formation that extends into eastern Ohio, New York, West Virginia and western Maryland.
It has triggered opposition in some circles because of the threat to drinking water. Five Ohio communities — Garrettsville, North Canton, Canton, Plain Township and Yellow Springs — have voiced concerns about horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
The Marcellus formation in Ohio is very thin and most desirable only in counties along the Ohio River: Monroe has 15 wells, Washington, 14, and Jefferson, 10.
That triggered the natural gas companies descending on Portage, Stark, Carroll and other counties in 2010 to sign leases for mineral rights from thousands of landowners.
Permits filed for drilling
The deeper Utica shale — covering the eastern half of Ohio— has garnered new interest. To date, the most permits have been filed in Carroll County, with six, and Belmont and Tuscarawas counties, with four each.
Eleven Ohio counties have permits filed for Utica drilling.
According to Stewart, the big oil-gas companies probably will be forced to work with smaller companies that already hold natural gas leases across much of Ohio if they want to be a player in the Utica development. That is just starting to develop, he said.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or email@example.com.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.