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Utica Shale >> Overview

Utica Shale Overview

What is the Utica Shale?

The Utica Shale play is one of the brightest stars in the developing U.S. resource play scene. 

The overall play is actually composed of at least three named geologic units: the Utica Shale, the Point Pleasant Formation, and the Collingwood Member of the Trenton Limestone. The Utica Shale covers much of the northern Appalachian basin, Cincinnati-Findlay Arches, and Michigan basin and has been productive in Quebec, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Ohio is the primary focus of current activity because this state has the thickest accumulation of the Point Pleasant formation which underlies the Utica Shale. The Point Pleasant is a hybrid fine-grained reservoir system composed of organic-rich carbonates interlayered with organic-rich calcareous shale. Thus, in Ohio and western Pennsylvania, the name of the play should perhaps be the Utica-Point Pleasant. Similarly in the Michigan basin, the Utica is underlain by the Collingwood, so most people refer to the play as the Collingwood or Collingwood-Utica.

Utica Shale Background

After the initial success of the Barnett Shale play, explorationists started looking for similar situations where the combination of horizontal wells with large multi-stage hydraulic fracture stimulations could be successful. Previous research on the Trenton-Black River play in the northern Appalachian Basin made a number of geologists think that the Utica Shale and Point Pleasant deserved a look, so state geological survey geologists started remarking on this as early as 2005. In 2004-2005 Range Resources developed the concept in the Devonian Marcellus Shale in western Pennsylvania. That play began to take off in western and central Pennsylvania, west-central New York, southeastern Ohio and central West Virginia– much of the same U.S. area that also contains the stratigraphically deeper Utica Shale and Point Pleasant Formation.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, Canada, Junex developed the concepts and lease acreage to test the equivalent rocks of the Point Pleasant and Utica. Together with Forest Oil they drilled the first test in 2006. This well and subsequent wells have shown a complex resource system containing at least 4.1TCF in producible reserves, with some sections of the Utica reaching in excess of 4,500 feet thick.  Unfortunately, Quebec halted large-scale drilling in the province in late 2010 until it completed a Strategic Environmental Assessment in November 2013. New York state has also halted large-scale drilling programs while it debates the efficacy of horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing. These developments along with geologic considerations have put much of the focus of the Utica-Point Pleasant play on Ohio and, to a lesser degree, northwestern Pennsylvania.

Defining the Utica Shale Play

(see full-size image: Utica Shale Horizontal Well Status through 2/2/2013)

Over 500 horizontal wells have been permitted in Ohio since late 2010. About 220 have been drilled, but less than 50 wells have been put into production. 

A lack of sufficient infrastructure has prevented more rapid development as Ohio, prior to this play, had very little gas processing capabilities and a small-capacity gathering system in place. Over $7 billion has been committed to midstream projects within the state to provide sufficient capacity to move this play forward. These projects started coming on stream in 2013 through 2015.

Development of the play started in Carroll, Harrison, Guernsey, and Belmont Counties where early players were able to put together strong acreage positions by acquiring assets from the larger independents that had been developing Ohio’s smaller conventional reservoirs. Drilling is now starting to spread outwards testing the limits of the play.

The Point Pleasant is a hybrid fine-grained reservoir system composed of organic-rich carbonates interlayered with organic-rich calcareous shale.

(see image: Utica-Point Pleasant Core Log)

This combination makes for an excellent source/reservoir system – responding very well to hydraulic fracturing and containing many natural fractures loaded with generated hydrocarbons. The Point Pleasant Formation lies directly above the Trenton Limestone and is, at least in part, equivalent with the thick deposits of the Trenton carbonate platform of northwestern Ohio, famous for the Lima-Indiana oil-and-gas trend, which was the first true giant field produced in North America starting in 1884.

Utica Shale Well LOg

(see image: Utica Shale Well Diagram)

As the carbonate platform deposits of the Trenton thin, the interbedded, organic-rich carbonates and shales of the Point Pleasant thicken. The deposition of Trenton platform carbonates and contemporaneous interplatform shales represent major sedimentological and structural changes to the region as a direct result of the ensuing Taconic Orogeny. As the orogenic activity increased and the foreland basin deepened, the organic-rich Utica Shale transgressed the area overwhelming and drowning the carbonate environments. Thus, in the deeper portions of the present-day basin, the Utica (and Antes) is, in part, laterally equivalent and overlies the Point Pleasant. 

Utica Shale

The Point Pleasant consists of interbedded light gray to black limestones, brown to black organic-rich calcareous shales, and, quite often, brachiopod coquina layers. The overlying Utica Shale is mostly light gray to black calcareous shales with few limestone layers and is, in general, more massive and dense than the Point Pleasant. In most wells analyzed, the Point Pleasant shales have higher source rock potential than within the Utica. Clay content of the Point Pleasant is fairly low (5-20%) while the overlying Utica can be 30-40%. Low water saturation is prevalent (5-20%).

Post-frac "soaking" periods appear to be working quite well. In addition, most of the area within Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania is inside the thermal maturation window producing a rich combination of natural gas, natural gas liquids, and oil. (see image: Utica Shale Group/Overlay Diagram)

Cross Section

Utica Shale

Total organic carbon (TOC) measured from samples within the play area range from 2.2 to over 7 weight percent. 

(see image: Utica Shale TOC Diagram)

Most of these reported measurements are from older cuttings which make the numbers very conservative. Organic porosity appears to be well developed and, combined with the existing natural fractures, provides an excellent storage and delivery system. The formation has low water saturation (~5-20%), low clay content (~5-15%), and is responding very well to prolonged soak periods following initial fracture stimulation. Reported production tests range from 1.9 MMcfgpd + 100 Bbl NGL + 410 Bbls oil to over 9.5 MM cfgpd + 1,425 Bbls combined liquids. Average reported estimated ultimate recoveries are about 455 Mboe.

Within Ohio and NW Pennsylvania, depths to the base of the Point Pleasant (top of Trenton Limestone) for the main play area range from about 5,000 to 10,000 feet.

The combined thickness of the Point Pleasant Formation and Utica Shale varies from less than 150 feet to over 300 feet. 

Trenton Limestone

(see image: Trenton Limestone Structure)

Utica Point Pleasant

(see image: Utica-Point Pleasant Thickness)

References & Further Reading

  • Cole, G.A., and others, 1987, Organic Geochemistry and Oil-Source Correlations, Paleozoic of Ohio, AAPG Bulletin, v. 71, No. 7, p. 788-809.
  • Cornell, S. R. 2000. Sequence Stratigraphy and Event Correlations of upper Black River and lower Trenton Group Carbonates of northern New York State and southern Ontario, Canada, unpublished M.S. Thesis, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • Patchen, D.G., Hickman, J.B., Harris, D.C., Drahovzal, J.A., Lake, P.D., Smith, L.B., Nyahay, R., Schulze, R., Riley, R.A., Baranoski, M.T., Wickstrom, L.H., Laughrey, C.D., Kostelnik, J., Harper, J.A., Avary, K.L., Bocan, J., Hohn, M.E., and McDowell, R., 2006, A geologic play book for Trenton-Black River Appalachian basin exploration: U.S. Department of Energy Report, Morgantown, WV, DOE Award Number DE-FC26-03NT41856
  • Pollastro, R.M., Cook, T.A., Roberts, L.N.R., Schenk, C.J., Lewan, M.D., Anna, L.O., Gaswirth, S.B., Lillis, P.G., Klett, T.R., and Charpentier, R.R., 2008, Assessment of undiscovered oil resources in the Devonian-Mississippian Bakken Formation, Williston Basin Province, Montana and North Dakota, 2008: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2008–3021, 2 p.
  • Pope, M.C., and Read, J.F., 1997 High-resolution surface and subsurface sequence stratigraphy of late Middle to Upper Ordovician (late Mohawkian-Cincinnatian) foreland basin rocks, Kentucky and Virginia: AAPG Bulletin v. 81, no. 11, p. 1866–1893.
  • Ryder, R.T., 2008, Assessment of Appalachian basin oil and gas resources: Utica-Lower Paleozoic Total Petroleum System: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2008–1287
  • Wickstrom, L. H., E.R. Venteris, J.A. Harper, and 26 other authors, 2005, Characterization of geologic sequestration opportunities in the MRCSP region: Final report under DOE cooperative agreement DE-PS26-05NT42255, Ohio Geological Survey Open File Report 2005-1, 152 p.
  • Repetski, J.E., Ryder, R.T., Weary, D.J., Harris, A.G., and Trippi, M.H., 2008, Thermal maturity patterns (CAI and %Ro) in Upper Ordovician and Devonian rocks of the Appalachian basin: A major revision of USGS Map I–917–E using new subsurface collections: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3006
  • Wallace L.G. and Roen, J.B., 1989, Petroleum source rock potential of the Upper Ordovician black shale sequence, northern Appalachian basin: U. S. Geological Survey Open-file report 89-488, 66 p.
  • Wickstrom, L.H., J.D. Gray, and R.D. Stieglitz, 1992, Stratigraphy, structure, and production history of the Trenton Limestone (Ordovician) and adjacent strata in northwestern Ohio; Ohio Division of Geological Survey, Report of Investigations No. 143, 78 p., 1 pl.