CANONSBURG, Pa. - The Utica Shale formation holds 782 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, more than 20 times the amount officials believed it to contain just three years ago, according to the Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium at West Virginia University.
And officials said the 10 most productive wells in the entire region, spanning Kentucky to the state of New York, are in Belmont, Monroe and Harrison counties.
"It's a lot bigger than we thought," consortium Director Douglas Patchen said during a Tuesday meeting in Canonsburg, Pa., which also featured officials representing Ohio, Kentucky, New York and Pennsylvania.
For perspective, just 1 Tcf is enough fuel to provide power to 243,150 homes for 100 years.
In 2012, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the Utica - a formation deeper than the Marcellus shale - only contained 38 Tcf that drillers could recover. Even last year, the WVU research team believed the Utica held only 188.6 Tcf.
"Some of the well results are so huge. That is what made us increase our numbers so much from last year," Jessica Moore, senior petroleum geologist with the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, said.
"The revised resource numbers are impressive, comparable to the numbers for the more established Marcellus shale play, and a little surprising based on our Utica estimates of just a year ago, which were lower," Patchen said. "The more wells that are drilled, the more the play area may expand, and another year of production from the wells enables researchers to make better estimates."
On Tuesday, members of the consortium gave a public presentation of their "Utica Shale Playbook" study. Firms that funded the two-year, $1 million program include Southwestern Energy Co., Chevron, CNX Gas Corp., ConocoPhillips, EOG Resources, Royal Dutch Shell, EQT Corp., Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and EnerVest and Hess Corp., among others.
"This is a landmark study that demonstrates the vast potential of the Utica as a resource to complement - and go beyond - what the Marcellus has already proven to be," said Brian Anderson, director of WVU's Energy Institute. "Dr. Patchen and his team are to be commended for assembling an impressive consortium to undertake such a comprehensive study such as this."
The study shows the majority of the Utica play lies beneath the Marcellus shale play. The interval between the two plays - the space between the Marcellus and the deeper Utica - ranges from 4,000 feet in Ohio to greater than 6,500 feet in West Virginia. The drilling depth of the Utica ranges from less than 4,000 feet in Ohio to more than 12,000 feet in West Virginia, which is more than 2 miles below the surface.
Through the end of May, the study shows drillers obtained 2,425 permits for Utica exploration, the vast majority of which are in eastern Ohio. Chesapeake Energy, with activity heavily concentrated in Carroll, Columbiana, Tuscarawas and Harrison counties, holds the most permits with 860.
Originally, many industry leaders hoped the Utica would prove to be an oil play. Though mainly consisting of natural gas, the Utica also contains 1.9 billion barrels of recoverable oil, according to the WVU study.
Even as officials continue exploring the Utica and Marcellus, West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association Executive Director Corky Demarco said drillers are now working in the Rogersville shale. He said a test well drilled in Putnam County went about 14,000 feet deep, or about 2.6 miles, into the earth to reach the Rogersville.