Before oil and gas companies started drilling Ohio’s Utica Shale eight years ago, Richard Simmers, chief of the state’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources, asked his counterparts in other states what to expect.
“They described the shale industry as kind of tidal wave,” Simmers recalled at the recent Utica Midstream conference in North Canton. “You’re going to hear rumors of it coming, and then it’s going to come, and it’s going to come fast and hard, and it did.”
Oil and gas companies have drilled more than 2,500 horizontal shale wells in Ohio, causing the state’s oil and natural gas production to surge.
Drillers came to Ohio planning to explore the Utica and Marcellus shales beneath the eastern half of the state, but most horizontal drilling — sometimes called fracking — has concentrated in the Utica Shale deposits in counties near the Ohio River.
In the early days of shale drilling, the average well was 6,000 feet deep and 4,000 feet long. Now, the average well is being drilled 8,500 to 10,000 feet deep and 12,000 feet long; some wells are as long as 20,000 feet, Simmers said.
Last year, 358 new horizontal shale wells were drilled, according to the Division of Oil and Gas, which is part of the Department of Natural Resources.
“These numbers, we project, are going to be pretty consistent for the next two years,” Simmers said.
Utica Shale wells have caused Ohio’s natural gas production to surge. Last year, they produced 2.35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, more than twice what the state consumes in year.
“Gas production is growing very, very quickly,” Simmers said, explaining that natural gas production had increased every quarter since ODNR began quarterly tracking in 2013.
Pipelines and processing plants have been built throughout the region to handle all of that natural gas, and four gas-burning electric power plants have been built, with more in the planning stage.
Ohio has gone from producing less than 14 percent of the natural gas it consumed in 2011, to producing more than twice what it used last year.
Although the Utica Shale primarily produces natural gas, the formation also contains a significant amount of oil, Simmers said. Last year, shale wells produced almost 20 million barrels of oil.