Range Resources Corp. CEO Jeffrey Ventura said Wednesday at the DUG East Conference in Pittsburgh that his company is on track to soon begin drilling southwest Pennsylvania’s first unconventional Utica/Point Pleasant Shale well.

The company publicly announced that it would do so in February, with management officials saying drilling would begin sometime this spring and test results would be available by year’s end.

Since then, interest has continued to grow over what potential the Utica Shale holds outside of Ohio, in West Virginia and Pennsylvania (see Shale Daily, May 16). Operators in the Buckeye State, meanwhile, have delivered some solid dry gas results, including Magnum Hunter Corp.’s Stalder 3H in Monroe County, OH, which tested at a peak rate of 32.5 MMcf/d (see Shale Daily, Feb. 14) and Rice Energy Inc.’s Bigfoot 9H nearby in Belmont County, which tested at a peak rate of nearly 42 MMcf/d (see Shale Daily, June 2).

“Drilling in the Utica…really started after the [Marcellus Shale], and it started at a time when oil prices were high and gas prices were low,” Ventura told the crowd. “So, people targeted the oil part of the Utica and wet gas portion of the play, which are off in Ohio. The oil part didn’t work, it’s really non-commercial, the wet gas part — although there’s some prolific wells — has underperformed relative to some of the operators and analysts early projections.

“People have written down some of those wells somewhat, but I think what’s more exciting is the dry gas part. People are really moving southeast and looking at the dry gas, where there’s some really prolific gas wells and potential for that even down into the panhandle of West Virginia.”

Ventura, along with several other speakers at the conference, referenced Rice Energy’s Bigfoot well as evidence of the play’s high pressure regime and ability to deliver results.

Ventura and other industry experts who spoke at DUG, said they all anticipated an eventual spike in natural gas demand and a corresponding uplift in prices.

In March, NGI’s Shale Daily reported on Range’s plans for its first Utica well in southwest Pennsylvania’s Washington County, in an area where the company has experienced some of the best success in the state across a rich-gas core targeting the Marcellus and Upper Devonian shale formations (see Shale Daily, March 26). The well will target the Point Pleasant at a depth of 11,500 feet, similar to those in Ohio, with a longer lateral and reduced cluster spacing or shorter hydraulic fracturing stages.

At the time, the company said the Utica in southwest Pennsylvania could be just as prospective as the Marcellus or Upper Devonian. Range drilled one of the earliest exploratory horizontal Utica wells in Pennsylvania in 2009.

Ventura didn’t provide a timetable for when the well would be drilled or completed, but he said he expects the Utica/Point Pleasant to act as it has in southeast Ohio, with the Utica providing a strong top seal over the high-porosity Point Pleasant, facilitating high pressures that the company believes will produce high volumes of pipeline quality dry gas.

“We’re excited about that well. We think we’re going to have the tight Utica top seal on top of a great porous Point Pleasant section, high pressure and a reasonable depth,” Ventura said. “You never know before you drill it, but it certainly has the right ingredients.”