Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director James Zehringer said in a year-end update on Monday that his agency continues to grow stronger in response to the state’s shale gas development, hiring more oil and gas inspectors, creating new programs and strengthening existing regulations.

Ohio’s oil and gas production climbed this year, driven primarily by the Utica Shale. Unconventional wells in the state produced more through the first nine months of the year than all of Ohio’s wells produced in 2014. Zehringer said that just four years ago Ohio produced only 9% of the natural gas it used, but that share increased to more than 95% this year. ODNR anticipates that “in 2016 natural gas production in Ohio will exceed the needs of Ohioans,” setting the stage for more exports, Zehringer said.

Horizontal shale wells produced nearly 5.7 million bbl of oil in the third quarter and 245.7 Bcf of natural gas, up from a little more than 3 million bbl of oil and 132 Bcf of natural gas in the year-ago period (see Shale Daily, Dec. 3). Through the first nine months of this year, shale wells produced nearly 16 million bbl of oil and more than 651 Bcf of natural gas, up from the more than 15 million bbl of oil and 513 Bcf of natural gas produced by all conventional and unconventional wells in 2014.

Unconventional production has spiked dramatically since 2011, when just five commercial shale wells produced 2.5 Bcf of natural gas and minimal oil (see Shale Daily, April 3, 2012). Zehringer said in his update that the agency currently has more than 50 inspectors that oversee well construction and completions. Just five years ago the agency had less than 20 inspectors. In 2015, Zehringer said ODNR conducted 25,000 oil and gas well inspections.

Rounding out the year for the agency was the implementation of new rules for the construction of horizontal well pads that now require operators to submit detailed plans that must be certified by a professional engineer and reviewed by ODNR (see Shale Daily, July 16). The Environmental Protection Agency also released a favorable report about the state’s Class II Underground Injection Control program for oil and gas drilling waste disposal. The regularly scheduled review gave the program, which is overseen by ODNR, high marks and called it “good quality” (see Shale Daily, Sept. 18).

Following a series of multi-well pad fires, leaks and blowouts, Zehringer said ODNR also created an emergency response team this year, tasked with responding to oilfield incidents (see Shale Daily, Oct. 29, 2014; June 30, 2014). The team works and trains alongside first responders and coordinates state, local and private emergency resources.

Zehringer said his agency will continue to improve standards, implement well safety rules and both protect and promote the state’s natural resources.