State ranks high in drilling

WHEELING – Powered by plenty of Marcellus Shale drilling and fracking in the northern portion of the state, West Virginia rocketed into 10th place among natural gas producing states, according to statistics released Tuesday.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration shows a 37 percent increase – or an increase of 146 billion cubic feet – in Mountain State natural gas production from 2011 to 2012, elevating the state’s position from 11th to 10th.

Though Corky Demarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said growth in the state is impressive, he believes the numbers will only continue to grow.

“We have only drilled about 5 percent of the Marcellus (Shale) wells we can drill in West Virginia,” he said. “I would suspect we will continue to increase our position.”

Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said the state produced about 408 billion cubic feet of gas in 2012, 302 billion cubic feet of which came from shale gas.

“We have more than doubled our production from 2004. That is pretty impressive over just eight years,” Burd said, adding the state yielded about 197 billion cubic feet that year.

Because of West Virginia’s proximity to Pennsylvania, drillers such as Chesapeake Energy, Consol Energy, Chevron and others working along the border often overlap their operations between the two states. Pumping 72 percent more gas than in 2011, Pennsylvania now ranks as the third largest producer of natural gas, up from seventh place.

A preliminary review of 2013 data shows Pennsylvania may surpass Louisiana as the nation’s second-largest producer of natural gas once that information becomes official next year. Texas, home to the prolific Eagle Ford Shale play, continues leading the nation as the largest producer.

Generally, throughout the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, the farther east one drills for gas, the more likely this gas is to be of the dry type. The methane-dominated dry gas does not require much processing, so it is much more ready to be sent to market and used by energy companies such as Columbia Gas. As drillers move their operations toward the west, they are more likely to find the liquids-rich wet gas which, in addition to the dry methane gas, contains valuable ethane, propane and butane.

“The geology is proven now,” said Burd, who said it typically costs companies about $7 million to drill a single horizontal Marcellus Shale well.

“These companies are now confident that they can make money here, so they are willing to invest that much up front to drill here,” he said.

Although natural gas processors continue pumping ethane out of the Marcellus and Utica shale regions, Demarco and Burd are both confident Odebrecht’s planned Parkersburg cracker plant will come to fruition, helping the region continue to grow.

“Our projections show that by 2017-18, there will be about 500,000 barrels of ethane per day being produced throughout the Appalachian Basin,” Demarco said of the region that includes Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. “We are in great position to get at least one cracker.”