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Operators Get to Work on West Virginia Utica Wells

Multiple Appalachian operators have earnestly started to delineate their Utica Shale acreage in West Virginia, delivering on the promises they've made in recent months to push the formation's boundaries south beyond Ohio and drill deeper and longer on the lateral (see Shale Daily, March 26).

An early update from Magnum Hunter Resources Corp. on its progress at the Stewart Winland pad in Tyler County, WV, combined with some positive updates from other operators working on wells in nearby Belmont, Monroe and Guernsey counties, OH -- which straddle Utica development in West Virginia -- have financial analysts optimistic about the value and growth potential of the region (see Shale Daily, May 6; April 25; April 15).

In an 8K filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday, Magnum indicated positive data from its vertical pilot hole targeting the Utica Shale in Tyler County. The Stewart Winland 1300 well, Magnum said, hit 109 net feet of hydrocarbons, similar to its February results at the nearby Stalder well in Monroe County, OH, which tested at a peak rate of 32.5 MMcf/d (see Shale Daily, Feb. 14).

The Stewart Winland Utica well in West Virginia is 350 feet deeper than the Stalder well, and the company indicated in its filing that early results show greater bottomhole pressure and similar porosity and permeability to the Stalder reservoir. The company plans to drill the well with a 5,500-foot lateral and 22 hydraulic fracturing (fracking) stages.

"We believe this morning's filing may relieve some investors' concerns that the rock in the area is potentially overcooked," said Topeka Capital Markets analyst Gabriele Sorbara after Magnum released its update. "We continue to believe nothing is priced in for [Magnum's] dry gas upside and are now even more positive that the Utica is prospective all the way down to Tyler County, WV."

Magnum feels that way too, and it's dumped more capital into its Appalachian drilling program in recent months, divesting non-core acreage in Texas and Canada to focus on its Marcellus and Utica Shale assets in West Virginia and Ohio (see Shale Daily, May 12).

During a conference call to discuss first quarter results last week, Magnum CEO Gary Evans said Chevron Appalachian LLC had reported a "significant" Utica well in Marshall County, WV, to the north of Magnum's acreage in Tyler County. He added that Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. had permitted a Utica well in Wood County, WV, farther to the west of its acreage or any other operator working to delineate the Utica in the state.

"I know [Cabot] has permitted it; they have not moved a rig in yet," Evans told analysts on the call. "Cabot's been very quiet about that, so we don't know what their plans are. Hopefully, they drill it this year because it's a huge validation point for us."

Meanwhile at Gastar Exploration Inc.'s analyst day on Wednesday, the company reported that it was currently drilling its first Utica well in Marshall County, with a test rate expected in July and another Utica well planned to the south in Wetzel County later this year (see Shale Daily, May 9).

"Gastar is currently assuming 1,000-foot spacing in the Utica Shale; however, Rice Energy, in the core Utica (Belmont County) is currently moving forward with 500 foot spacing, which if successful, would also double Gastar's current 59 net locations in the Utica Shale resource potential." Sorbara said

Like Magnum, Gastar is getting more attention given its 11,400 net acres in the core dry gas Utica and liquids-rich Marcellus window in West Virginia.

"In the last few days we have seen strong announcements from multiple operators in the dry gas section of the Utica that shine a bright light on Gastar's net acre position just into West Virginia," said Wunderlich Securities analyst Jason Wangler in a note to clients on Thursday. "These strong results de-risk the play and boost excitement for Gastar's initial Utica results."

Antero Resources Corp. has also staked, or located, a Utica Shale well in Tyler County, while Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Stone Energy Corp. have permitted Utica wells in the state as well.

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