The permitting of horizontal natural gas wells in Ohio has grown more than eight-fold in one year; Chesapeake Energy Corp. became a major player in the Utica Shale, and Carroll County became the play’s “ground zero,” according to data from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.

The ODNR’s Oil and Gas Well Database reports that as of Thursday, 127 permits have been issued for horizontal natural gas wells so far this year. That’s an 846% increase from the 15 wells that were permitted during the same period last year.

Slightly more than half of the 127 well permits issued since Jan. 1 were for wells in two counties: Carroll (47) and Columbiana (24). The next counties to receive the most permits were Monroe (13), Jefferson (10), Harrison (9) and Stark (6). Four permits were issued for wells in both Belmont and Guernsey counties, followed by three for Tuscarawas County. Knox and Mahoning counties each had two wells permitted, and Noble, Portage and Trumbull counties each had one.

According to the ODNR, the far majority (78.7%) of the wells permitted this year were for Chesapeake Exploration LLC, which had 100. Other operators making forays into the Utica included HG Energy LLC with 10 permits, Devon Energy Production Co. with four, and both EnerVest Operating LLC and XTO Energy Inc. had three. Protege Energy II LLC had two permits, and five operators — Hess Ohio Resources LLC, PAC Drilling LLC, R E Gas Development LLC, SWEPI LP and Triad Hunter LLC — each had one.

Of the 127 permits issued so far in 2012, all but four are targeting the Utica, the ODNR said. Three of the remaining proposed wells would target the Marcellus Shale, and a fourth would target the Clinton-Medina Formation.

Conversely, the ODNR database revealed that from Jan. 1, 2011 through July 5, 2011, state regulators issued permits for 15 horizontal natural gas wells. Of those, 12 were designed to target the Utica, two were to target the Marcellus and one the Devonian Shale.

Five permits for the 2011 period were for wells in Belmont County, four in Carroll, and one each in Harrison, Jefferson, Marion, Monroe, Stark and Wyandot counties. Meanwhile Chesapeake tied with the Oxford Oil Co. with five permits each, Mar Oil Co. had two permits, and EnerVest, Protege and CNX Gas Co. LLC each had one.

The ODNR said that beginning in December 2009 and through June 24 of this year, regulators have approved 281 permits for horizontal natural gas wells targeting the Utica shale, and 88 wells have been drilled. Carroll County leads the state with 96 permits issued, followed by Columbiana County with 44.