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W.Va. natural gas flows skyrocketing

The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING – In 2011, Ohio County’s natural gas production, via three traditional vertical wells, came in at 84,000 cubic feet. Just two years later, with several horizontal wells fracked and producing, the total skyrocketed to 22.6 billion cubic feet – an almost 270,000-fold increase.

A similar boom is taking place in the three West Virginia counties south of Ohio – Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler. In Wetzel County, for example, where natural gas production has been strong for decades, energy companies extracted 9.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2009. By the end of last year, the total had reached 114.7 billion cubic feet, according to the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey.

That’s about a 12-fold increase in just four years.

Brooke County’s production also has taken a steep upward trajectory. From 2009-11, the county produced no natural gas. In 2012, the total was 1.4 million cubic feet. Last year, that rose to 8 billion cubic feet.

Such is the energy impact of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations in the local region. And given production numbers released throughout this year, such as Magnum Hunter Resources’ Stewart Winland pad in Tyler County, where the company recently produced 46.5 million cubic feet per day from a single Utica Shale well along with another 50.9 million cubic feet from three other Marcellus wells on the same pad, for a total of 97.4 million cubic feet of natural gas daily, the numbers – and hence, the money coming back to mineral rights owners – will only continue to grow.

Consider these figures: For September, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Marcellus Shale formation produced more than 13.5 trillion cubic feet of dry natural gas. All the other shale plays in the U.S. combined produced about an additional 23 trillion cubic feet.

“Increases in production can be attributed to a couple of factors. How many wells do you have? Are they wide open?” said Tim Greene, owner of Land and Mineral Management of Appalachia and a former West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Office of Oil and Gas inspector.

When referring to “wide open,” Greene means whether a driller is actively pumping as much gas out of a single well as possible. Such an example is Magnum Hunter’s Tyler County operation.

“To have successfully completed four very high production rate wells that have tested on a combined basis at 97.4 million cubic feet per day on one single pad, is a testimony to both the quality of the rock underlying our company’s lease acreage as well as the knowledge and experience of our management team and field personnel and what they have learned over the past three years in drilling and completing over 50 wells in the region,” Magnum Hunter Chairman and CEO Gary Evans said.

According to the survey, which operates under the auspices of Secretary of Commerce Keith Burdette’s office, total production for West Virginia reached 742.4 billion cubic feet in 2013. This is up from 265.3 billion cubic feet in 2009.

Greene said he expects overall production throughout West Virginia to continue increasing, but said this will not be the case for individual wells.

“It is too early to say how long these wells will produce at these rates. When you see those giant numbers, everyone gets excited,” Greene said. “But a royalty owner should expect their checks to go up and down.”

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