Appalachian Basin

Ohio’s Production Numbers Don’t Tell All

After at least an extra month of guarded anticipation, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finally released oil and gas production data on 86 wells producing from the Utica shale during 2012.  Oddly enough, an article from Reuters appearing in Friday’s papers dismisses the Utica play as a bust.  To quote the article written by Edward McAllister and Sabina Zawadzki:

“U.S. hopes for a new shale oil bonanza in Ohio, joining the prolific Bakken and Eagle Ford plays that have raised production to 20-year highs, were shattered on Thursday by the first hard evidence that the Utica formation was primarily gas-prone.

“Now, data from Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) showed that in 2012, the first full year of drilling, oil output amounted to only 636,000 barrels — about enough to fill a single small crude oil tanker. On average for the full year, output came to a mere 1,742 barrels a day (bpd) versus 780,000 bpd in North Dakota, where much of Bakken lies.”

The numbers reported to the DNR and discussed in the Reuters account would indicate that the 86 wells now producing are averaging approximately 20 barrels of oil per day.  It’s hard to argue with statistics, but it’s also important to understand that on the surface, these particular ones are very misleading.

For example, Chesapeake Energy reported production on 53 wells that averaged 77 BOPD and 2097 Mcfd.  The gas production rates are certainly substantial, even with only three wells being online for more than 300 days, but the oil production rates appear less than impressive.  However, no mention is made of natural gas liquids (NGLs) that are being recovered from the gas.  In fact, considerable NGLs are being recovered from the gas stream and are not reported as oil production to the state.  Similarly, nothing is mentioned as to how the wells are being produced. Notably, due to limited pipeline capacity (a condition that is only temporary, given massive buildouts already underway), many of these wells are being “choked back” until the product can actually be sent somewhere.

In fact, nearly $10 billion is being invested in Ohio’s midstream infrastructure to help bring the gas and entrained NGLs from these wells to market.  How will this impact the production from these same 86 wells going forward? No one knows for sure.  But it’s safe to say that the numbers will look better when this infrastructure is in place.

In the end, the raw production numbers reported to the state represent only a snapshot of what the industry is actually doing — and, more importantly, what it’s capable of doing.  No, the oil numbers are not as good as other, more mature plays, like the Eagle Ford in Texas. But the real question is, are the wells economic?  Can a company invest $5-9 million to drill and complete a well in the Utica shale and make a profit on its investment?  The most important numbers to a company are net present value and payout time — neither of which are reported to the State.

The Reuters report also compares the Bakken’s current production numbers to the Utica’s first year.  This is hardly a fair comparison.  I don’t know what the Bakken produced in its first year, but I can assure you it wasn’t 780,000 barrels of oil per day. Heck, back in the mid-1990s, the U.S. Geological Survey thought the Bakken only held about 151 million barrels of oil, a number they later had to upwardly revised by nearly 25-fold in 2008 after development began to take off.  The article does not state how many wells are responsible for that production either.

Personally, I like to compare apples to apples — not apples to airplanes.

I’m not throwing in the towel on Ohio production, and we know the companies operating here in Ohio aren’t either.  In fact, I’m celebrating the fact that the number of permits taken out at the DNR is steadily rising along with infrastructure development and production — which is great news for our economic future in this part of the country.

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