- The potentially productive extent of the NYS Utica is a small fraction of its overall area
- Much of the supposed “sweet spot” has been tested for the Utica with poor results
- Much of the sweet spot is too shallow to drill at the north end
- Much of the sweet spot is too deep to drill economically near the border
- If the Utica is dry gas in New York, it will not be economic this decade
- The Utica should be productive dry gas in Tioga and Potter County Pa. at considerable depth
New York is where shale formations come to die – in more ways than one. The Marcellus outcrops (comes to the surface) in the town of the same name. Ditto the Utica. The Union Springs formation, Oatka Creek, Cherry Valley, etc. But that’s just for openers. They also come to New York to play out in terms of productivity. They become economically comatose far from where they outcrop.
All shale fields are initially overstated to the public, the press and the politicians by focusing on the gross extent of the shale itself, shown below. The implication is that it is or could be economic over that area – and this never is the case. We have begun to understand the extent of the Marcellus’s and Utica’s potential productivity in New York from test wells – which serve to prove where the shale is not productive. Based in part on that new information, the USGS has issued an update on the technically recoverable reserves of the Utica shale. The report indicates that the shale’s productivity is likely only in a small fraction of the total area of the shale in New York, and may in fact be limited to Broome, part of Chenango, Delaware and Otsego County – where its productivity has already been tested by Gastem – and bits of Madison, Oneida and Herkimer County – where it is too shallow to drill under DEC guidelines. If so, this would correct earlier assumptions that the Utica might be unproductive east of the Finger Lakes. It also seems to dispel the notion that the Utica might be productive for oil in New York as it is in Ohio. But it greatly limits the productive potential of the Utica this decade, as discussed below.
What the USGS estimates do not address are the economics of exploiting the Utica. The Utica differs from the Marcellus in that it is deeper – and therefore more costly to drill. It is probably too deep to tap economically at the border. If the Utica is “dry” gas in New York state, there may be no economic incentive to drill for it until sometime in the next decade. In fact, the Marcellus above it might have to be almost fully exploited before there would be much reason to produce dry gas from a more costly formation. (The swing variables being depth, volume and carbon content). Shown below is a map of the Utica’s depth to base of formation – approximately 10,000 feet at the border. (ref. Brian Brock).
At the northern extent of the Utican “sweet spot” (no longer the “fairway”) it may be shallow enough to produce from at some point – but not anytime soon, since gas prices would have to rise above $5 mcf to make such dry gas wells even marginally economic. So the Utica might be economic in New York state by say 2020. At the extreme north end of the sweet spot, the formation is too shallow to frack – the fracks would contaminate aquifers. Nutshell: for all intents and purposes, the Utica may not exist as an economically viable target in New York at this time. If you mapped that – it would be a blank – a dead zone. New York is where the Utica comes to die.
Utican test wells have been unproductive in Otsego County and parts of Chenango County. The Utica is too probably too shallow to drill in northern Otsego & Chenango Co., where it is less than 4,000 feet. Under DEC limit of 2,000 feet, it’s too shallow to drill under DEC regulations in Madison, Herkimer and Oneida County. At the border, Broome & Delaware Co., the Utica is too deep to be economic for years. The estimated reserves per well – far less than 1 Bcf, would indicate that a Utica well would not be economic even in most of the supposed “sweet spot”.
What does this mean to you ? It means you have to get busy. The DEC, DOH, EPA, and DOT can’t protect your house, your road or you water. And wildcatters will drill wildcat wells all over Upstate looking for shale gas.
Since the DEC protects no roads, no houses and few water supplies, towns that may be subject to Utican exploration should enact road use and land use ordinances. Preferably before well permits are issued (and grandfathered) but certainly before out-of-state crews move in and start shooting up the place. Literally. Since New York is one of the few states without any restrictions on shooting seismic blasts – anywhere and everywhere. Because Chesapeake wouldn’t like that. And the DEC doesn’t really fracking care. Get ready. Or get fracked. You heard it here last.
Karen Edelstein/ FracTracker provided most of these illustrations. Brian Brock provided the USGS report with comments.