EV Energy Partners LP (EVEP) is working on “several other opportunities” in the Utica Shale, where it is continuing a dual strategy of offering its wet gas acreage for sale while also looking for joint venture (JV) partners to help de-risk the play’s oil window.

On Monday, CEO Mark Houser told attendees of the Independent Petroleum Association of America’s (IPAA) Oil and Gas Investment Symposium in San Francisco that the company hopes to announce that it has forged a JV in the Utica for oil by the end of the year.

“As we market the wet gas window acreage, we’re simultaneously pursuing JV opportunities with both service companies and production companies to really de-risk the oil play,” Houser said. “We feel like we’ll get more value for our oil window acreage that way, and so we’re setting upon that, and we’re having good encouragement early on from several companies in terms of participating in that.

“We hope to get something done over the winter. Our target is maybe by the end of the year, but it may lapse a little bit into next year. But again, we feel like de-risking this play will set aside a whole other side of upside for us.”

EVEP currently has two JV partners in the Utica: Chesapeake Energy Corp. and France’s Total SA (see Shale Daily, Jan. 4, 2012). According to slides presented by Houser at the conference, the JV expects to run nine rigs through the end of the year, and projects to drill 540 total wells through 2014.

Houston-based EVEP is a publicly traded MLP controlled by EnerVest Ltd., the second biggest leaseholder in the Utica. Combined, EnerVest and EVEP have more than 900,000 acres in Ohio held by production (HBP).

“Chesapeake has drilled probably 80% of the wells in the Utica, [but] now that’s evolving,” Houser said, adding that EVEP has an interest in about 100 of approximately 300 wells drilled by Chesapeake. “Chesapeake still has about 15 rigs running, but I think they have about 30% of the market now.

“You can see other operators are getting busy. The real star so far has been the wet gas window…recently folks like PDC [Energy Inc.] and Gulfport [Energy Corp.] and others are certainly making their names known in the play,” (see Shale Daily, March 4; Sept. 20, 2012).

EVEP owns 54,000 net acres in the wet gas window of the Utica, including 45,000 net acres in Ohio and 9,000 net acres in Pennsylvania. The company also owns 79,000 net acres considered to be in the play’s volatile oil window (78,000 in Ohio, 1,000 in Pennsylvania).

“We’re actively marketing those [wet gas acres] because it’s been determined to be a market,” Houser said. “Right now, the best we can tell [is that] the oil in place in the volatile oil window is about 16 million bbl per section…the challenge is getting it out.”

Last August, EVEP and EnerVest announced that it had sold 22,535 net acres — including 4,345 net EVEP acres — in the wet gas window of the Utica to an undisclosed buyer for $284.3 million (see Shale Daily, Aug. 13). Houser said EVEP will receive about $56 million ($12,900/acre) from the deal, which is still subject to price adjustments.

“We’re actually in the middle of closing that transaction as we speak,” the CEO said, adding “the benchmarks are good, and we’ve got several other opportunities that we’re working on. As those are signed, we’ll make announcements for that.”

Several sources have identified American Energy Partners LP, a new enterprise founded by former Chesapeake CEO and co-founder Aubrey McClendon, as the unidentified buyer in the EnerVest/EVEP transaction (see Shale Daily, Aug. 21).

Houser also touched on last month’s agreement for EVEP and EnerVest affiliates to acquire Barnett Shale gas properties from Carrizo Oil and Gas Inc. (see Shale Daily, Sept. 10). The acquisition is to be financed with proceeds from the sale of its Utica acreage.

“We hedge, and we feel like we’ve got a good bit of upside drilling here that we can manage over time,” Houser said. “We can hedge the PDP [proved developed producing] and then our option value on these PUDs [proved undeveloped] over the long term.

“This is some of the most high-quality Barnett reservoir we’ve seen, and the rate of return on the incremental PUDs are very, very high. We feel like this is a great opportunity, and again, we can control the drilling timing because it’s all HBP.”

EnerVest also holds a 21% stake in the Utica East Ohio Midstream LLC (UEO) operations, which are being built to process natural gas. In addition, it has an interest in the Cardinal Gas Services gathering pipeline network for natural gas liquids. UEO partners include M3 Ohio Gathering (Momentum), Access Midstream Partners GP and Williams (see Shale Daily, Dec. 13, 2012). The partners plan to invest $900 million or more over the next five years to develop an integrated midstream service complex in eastern Ohio.

The project includes the Kensington Plant in Columbiana County, a cryogenic processing facility with an initial capacity of 600 MMcf/d and an expected full capacity of 800 MMcf/d.

“While we spend the majority of our time focused on delivering on our Utica plans, we’re actually now back to doing some acquisitions,” Houser said. “We’re trying to time acquisitions to fit. Of course they have to be a good opportunity, but also to fit the timing of our sales so that we can have a tax-friendly basis.”