Bob Downing

JACKSON TWP.: CONSOL Energy Inc. has big plans for tapping into Ohio’s Utica shale for natural gas.

The Pittsburgh-based energy company has drilled its first Ohio well, in Tuscarawas County, and expects to add perhaps 15 more Ohio wells this year on its nearly 200,000 acres, said Harry Schurr, the company’s general manager of Utica operations.

His comments came Wednesday at Kent State University’s Stark Campus where CONSOL Energy hosted a daylong workshop that attracted 50 stakeholders from its growing Ohio operations.

Schurr said the company is focusing its drilling on nearly 87,000 acres in five Ohio counties: Portage, Trumbull, Mahoning, Tuscarawas and Noble.

In fact, the company has more acreage in Portage than any other in Ohio: 25,443 acres.

It has three rigs operating in Ohio: horizontal drilling rigs in Rootstown Township and in Noble County, plus a vertical drilling rig in Mahoning County, Schurr said.

CONSOL Energy is also partnering with New York-based Hess Corp. in Ohio.

Hess will develop wells on nearly 76,000 acres in Guernsey, Belmont, Jefferson and Harrison counties.

It paid $594 million to CONSOL Energy to create the partnership and be able to tap into the Utica shale under eastern Ohio under the agreement that was finalized last September.

Hess plans to drill six Ohio wells in 2012.

According to CONSOL Energy, about 80,000 acres were acquired decades ago by the firm with its long history of coal mining. The remaining 120,000 acres were acquired in 2010 as part of the company’s acquisition of the exploration and production operations of Virginia-based Dominion Resources. It is the parent company of Dominion East Ohio that is based in Cleveland.

CONSOL Energy, like other drillers, is still in the exploratory stage in Ohio, Schurr said. It is trying to determine the potential yield of the state’s Utica shale for natural gas, oil and so-called wet gasses: butane, ethane and propane.

“That takes time,” he said. “The exploration will continue as long as it takes. … There’s no way to predict how long it might take. It just depends.”

James R. Ladlee, associate director of the Penn State Marcellus Center of Outreach and Research, a speaker at the workshop, said the Ohio drilling boom will be significant but might not be as big as some have predicted.

Earlier this month, CONSOL Energy opened an Ohio office in Leetonia in Columbiana County. It has moved seven employees into that office and expects to add three more staffers before the end of 2012.

CONSOL Energy has a long history in Appalachian coal mining with operations dating to 1864. It has 9,000-plus employees and produces two-thirds of the nation’s energy supply in coal and natural gas.

It operates 12 bituminous coal-mining complexes in four states and reports coal reserves of 4.5 billion tons. It also claims natural gas reserves of more than 3.5 trillion cubic feet.

The company is also a major player in the Marcellus shale formations in Pennsylvania.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or