Pennsylvania issued its 3,000th Marcellus Shale drilling permit of the year in November, but the final well count for 2011 is likely to fall just shy of 2,000, if drilling remains at its current pace.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued 281 permits and operators reported drilling 151 wells into the play in November. Through the end of the month, the DEP issued 3,163 permits and operators reported drilling 1,751 wells in 2011. By comparison, the DEP issued 2,916 permits and operators reported drilling 1,368 wells by the same point last year.

According to NGI's Shale Daily Unconventional Rig Count for the week ending Dec. 9, the number of rigs actively drilling in the Marcellus increased 5% from the previous week from 151 to 159, and increased 17% from the 136 rigs operating in the play last year at this time.

In a continuing trend, permitting is down while drilling is up in the three prolific counties along the New York border. Between this November and last, permitting fell 6.7% to 1,367 while well counts increased 13.9% to 795 in Bradford, Tioga and Susquehanna counties. But in neighboring Lycoming, Wyoming, Potter and Sullivan counties, permitting is up 34% to 553 and drilling is up 107% to 347 wells between this November and last (see Shale Daily, Nov. 10).

In southwestern Pennsylvania, permitting is up 15.6% to 622 and drilling is up 27% to 343 wells in Washington, Westmoreland, Fayette and Greene counties. Just to the north in Butler, Armstrong and Indiana counties, permitting is up 56% to 200 and drilling is up 17% to 89 wells.

Talisman Energy Inc. led drilling activities in November, spudding 22 wells in Tioga and Bradford counties. Chesapeake Energy Corp. spudded 20 wells in Bradford, Potter, Sullivan and Wyoming counties. Anadarko Petroleum Corp. spudded 17 wells, all in Lycoming County. Shell Western Exploration and Production LP spudded 16 wells, all in Tioga County. Range Resources Corp. spudded nine wells during the month, seven in Washington and two in Lycoming.

The DEP does not distinguish between Marcellus and Utica shale drilling in its reports.

Across the state line, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources issued 32 Utica Shale permits in November, up from 25 permits in October. Of those permits, 24 went to Chesapeake, four went to Devon Energy Corp., two went to Anadarko and two went to CNX Gas Co.

While Chesapeake continues to dominate the play, observers are closely watching Devon. Its permits in Ashland and Medina counties are the farthest west issued to date in Utica, and therefore the results of those wells could illuminate the boundaries of the oil phase of the play.