Ohio’s $500 Billion Oil Dream Fades as Drillers Misjudge: Energy
Mike Lee and Edward Klump, ©2013 Bloomberg News
Published 9:30 am, Tuesday, April 16, 2013
April 16 (Bloomberg) — U.S. drillers that set up rigs amid the rolling farmland of eastern Ohio on projections underground shale held $500 billion of oil are packing up.
Four of the biggest stakeholders in untapped deposits known as the Utica Shale have put up all or part of their acreage for sale, as prices fall by a third in some cases. Chesapeake Energy Corp. of Oklahoma City, the biggest U.S. shale lease owner, last week offered up 94,200 acres (38,121 hectares).EnerVest Ltd. and Devon Energy Corp. are selling as early results show lower production than their predictions.
The flip-flop underscores the difficulties faced by even experienced drillers around the world in tapping the sedimentary rock. In California, Occidental Petroleum Corp. was stymied by the Monterey Shale’s fault-riddled terrain. In Poland, Exxon Mobil Corp. stopped drilling because shale output was minimal. China’s failures with shale gas drove producers Cnooc Ltd. and China Petrochemical Corp. to seek expertise in North America.
In Ohio’s Utica formation, which runs eastward as far as New York, drillers frequently found the rock too dense and underground pressures insufficient to produce oil.
The rush to buy acreage has reversed.
The Utica saw one deal valued at more than $50 million in the fourth quarter of 2012, compared with seven in North Dakota’s more productive Bakken Shale and six in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale, according to the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
By 2017, the Utica should produce a daily average of 200,000 barrels of oil, Wood Mackenzie Ltd. estimated. The Eagle Ford by then will be producing 1.15 million barrels a day, almost six times more.
“People started to realize that, you know what, maybe the oil window of the play is not all it’s cracked up to be,” said Jonathan Garrett, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie who has studied the Utica.
Utica acreage can fetch about $1,000 to $8,000 an acre, Garrett said. In the Eagle Ford, which produced about 374,000 barrels of oil a day in January, acreage can cost about $5,000 to more than $36,000 an acre, he said.
The global exploration and production industry, which Cowen Group Inc. estimates will spend $645 billion this year, is learning how hard it is to transfer practices and expectations from one shale formation to another and replicate the success of the top fields, such as the Eagle Ford.
The Utica grabbed the U.S. shale spotlight in 2011 when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources estimated it held 5.5 billion barrels of recoverable oil reserves — equivalent to more than twice Yemen’s proven resource and valued at about $488 billion at yesterday’s $88.71-a-barrel U.S. oil price.
Chesapeake had boasted Utica would outperform the Eagle Ford. EnerVest, the biggest gas producer in Ohio, had said the Utica would bring jobs and new industry to the state. EnerVest in the past year has tried to sell acreage there and no buyers have emerged.
EnerVest is selling out of the Utica because oil production doesn’t fit its low-cost business model, Mark Houser, chief executive officer of EV Energy Partners LP, said in an interview. EV Energy is a master-limited partnership controlled by Houston-based EnerVest.
Going for natural gas is another story. Some areas of the Utica were found to be rich in gas liquids, though only a minority of companies are positioned to benefit. They include Gulfport of Oklahoma City and Denver-based PDC Energy Inc.