A West Virginia University-led study released Tuesday suggests that the Utica Shale formation contains more than 20 times as much technically recoverable natural gas resources than a previous estimate from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released in 2012.
To an extent, the study reaffirms the work of producers in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia in recent years that have padded their reserves through the drill bit. But the latest estimates, taken from a broader study that defined the Utica's fairways, examined its geological characteristics and compared the formation to equivalent rocks, surpasses the USGS' most recent estimate for all recoverable resources across the Appalachian Basin and shows that the Utica is comparable to the nation's largest gas field in the Marcellus Shale.
The Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium -- a program of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at WVU -- said the Utica contains technically recoverable resources of 782 Tcf of natural gas and nearly 2 billion bbl of oil. That's compared to the USGS' last Utica estimate of 38 Tcf of natural gas and 940 million bbl of oil (see Shale Daily, Oct. 5, 2012). Based on cumulative production data and proven reserves recorded in 2004, the USGS said earlier this year that the ultimate recoverable oil and natural gas in the Appalachian Basin is about 25.5 billion boe, or 4.76 bbl of oil and 124.9 Tcf of natural gas (see Shale Daily, March 27).
In August 2011, the last time the USGS released a resource estimate for the Marcellus, it said the formation contained 84 Tcf of natural gas and 3.4 billion bbl of oil (see Shale Daily, Aug. 24, 2011). That number, however, is likely outdated, with producers in Pennsylvania alone churning out more than 4 Tcf of natural gas last year (see Shale Daily, Feb. 17). The Energy Information Administration recently projected that Marcellus operators would produce 147 Tcf of natural gas between 2014 and 2040 (see Shale Daily, July 10).
"The revised resource numbers are impressive, comparable to the numbers for the more established Marcellus Shale play and a little surprising based on our Utica estimates of just a year ago, which were lower," said consortium Director Doug Patchen. "But this is why we continued to work on the resource estimates after the project officially ended a year ago. The more wells that are drilled, the more the play area may expand, and another year of production from the wells enables researchers to make better estimates."
WVU did not release its resource estimates from equivalent formations, or the full study, those links are expected to be posted online after a public unveiling in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. Researchers did say that with current technology, the play-wide oil recovery factor would be just 3% and the gas recovery factor would be 28% in the Utica's sweet spots. They also affirmed that the Point Pleasant formation below the Utica Shale is the region's preferred and most common drilling target, which is also its most prolific source rock along with members of the Lexington/Trenton formation.
The consortium was founded in 1989, and its members include the USGS, four state geological surveys and 15 industry sponsors, including some of the country's largest independent oil and gas producers, among others.