By EVAN BEVINS
MARIETTA, Ohio - An official with energy resource company Triad Hunter says the first horizontal wells are planned to be drilled in Washington County next year.
Jim Denny, president and chief operating officer for Triad Hunter, the locally-founded business purchased two years ago by Texas-based Magnum Hunter Resources, said the company plans to drill its first horizontal well in February, with more on the horizon. That activity would take place primarily in Washington and Monroe counties.
"We have plans to drill as many as 10 next year," he said.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources lists 457 Utica shale wells permitted in the state, none of them in Washington County so far.
There have been 20 permitted in Monroe County, all but four of them in Washington Township. One well in that township and another in Seneca Township are listed as producing. Eight more wells into the Marcellus shale formation have been permitted in Monroe County, with one, in Ohio Township, producing.
The horizontal drilling technology that allows access to resources in the deep-underground shale plays by injecting chemical-laced water into the formations to fracture them has been seen as an economic boon by many and a potential environmental threat by others. Some worries have centered on the possible contamination of water sources, although experts and industry officials insist the process is safe when done properly.
Jann Adams, a member of the local Southeast Ohio Fracking Interest Group, said news that drilling could start next year in Washington County raised three concerns among members - where the water used in the fracturing process will come from, whether the county is ready for increased truck traffic and the possibility of spills and the increased use of local injection wells. On the latter issue, she referred to questions over whether disposing of the wastewater deep underground triggers earthquakes.
"We hope that the Youngstown study has been looked at because Washington County does have a couple of fault lines," Adams said.
New state regulations prohibit drilling of injection wells into Precambrian basement rock and give the state the ability to require seismic surveying and monitoring.
Washington County commissioners earlier this year approved a road-use agreement to enter with companies to ensure they repair damage to roads caused by heavy trucks traveling on them. And Adams said SEOFIG is glad the commissioners have formed a committee to review fracking-related issues.
According to ODNR, 187 shale wells had been drilled as of Dec. 1, meaning the state is not on pace to reach the prediction of 250 offered by department Director James Zehringer to a state Senate committee in March.
But people involved with the practice say that doesn't mean the predicted oil and gas boom is slowing down before it's really gotten under way.
"There'll be about 200 wells drilled this year, and that's pretty good," said Bob Chase, chairman of the Petroleum Engineering Department at Marietta College.
There are 26 or 27 deep rigs running in Ohio, which is about the same number as in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, he said.
Chase said wells that have been drilled have been successful. One drilled in Belmont County was producing 28 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, while another in that county generated 20 million.
"I anticipate if we keep seeing successes like we've seen, that number will go up next year," he said.
Denny said that's definitely the expectation for Triad Hunter, but he noted one factor that's holding production back somewhat is the lack of enough pipelines to get the minerals to customers once their extracted.
"Now I know I have something, but how many of these things do I want to drill with no market?" he said.
A lot of the natural gas extracted from the Utica formation is "wet," Denny said, meaning it has other materials in it that need to be processed out before it can be transmitted through "dry" lines. Lines to handle wet gas are on the drawing board, he said.
A drop in natural gas prices has also contributed to the number of wells being somewhat below expectations, according to the Associated Press.
Heidi Hetzel-Evans, communications manager with ODNR's Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, noted the department doesn't usually speculate on the development end of processes it regulates.
And even if the numbers don't quite measure up, activity is steady, she said.
"We do continue to see new companies coming in and obtaining permits," she said.
Other aspects of the business remain active as well.
"We are super busy," said Jennifer Garrison, who opened a law office in Marietta to assist groups of landowners with oil and gas leases. "Our members have signed leases on 45,000 acres this year."