COLUMBUS - Utica Shale drilling in Ohio hasn't met the initial expectations of state officials this year, due largely to lower natural gas prices and a backlog in the work needed to connect the wells to customers.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials had told state legislators in March that as many as 250 of the natural gas and oil wells would be drilled in eastern Ohio's Utica shale by the end of the year. But, according to The Columbus Dispatch, state records show that only 165 wells have been completed, with 22 more being drilled.
In the Mahoning Valley, so far two horizontal Utica Shale wells have been permitted in Trumbull County and 15 in Mahoning County. Only three, all in Mahoning County, have been drilled, and none are producing, according to reports on file with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Among the local wells, one exploratory well in Milton Township, Mahoning County, permitted May 4, 2011, and drilled by Chesapeake Appalacia LLC produced 758 barrels of oil in 79 days last year. However, the well now is on "inactive status" while the company awaits completion of a sales line, according to information provided to the ODNR. In Mahoning County two other wells have been drilled or are in the drilling stage. No drilling has commenced in Trumbull County.
Despite the delays, state officials said shale drilling by the hydraulic-fracturing, of fracking, process is alive and well in Ohio.
"We're having new companies that continue to come in, and permitting remains steady," said Heidi Hetzel-Evans, a Natural Resources Department spokeswoman.
Natural Resources Director James Zehringer told a state Senate committee in March that 250 wells would be drilled by the end of this year. A timeline in his written testimony also predicted 750 new shale wells by the end of 2013 and 2,250 wells by the end of 2015.
Hetzel-Evans said the agency based its drilling projections on shale activity in Pennsylvania, where state records show that more than 5,600 shale wells have been drilled since January 2009.
Shale wells in Pennsylvania and other states have produced so much natural gas, propane and ethane that prices have dropped significantly.
The drilling that has occurred has had an impact in eastern Ohio, especially in Carroll County, which has more wells - 73 - than anywhere else in the state. Paul Feezel, leader of the advocacy group Carroll Concerned Citizens, said it's hard to imagine how drilling could get busier.
"It's a beehive of activity," Feezel said.
Hydraulic fracturing has made it possible to tap into deep reserves of oil and gas. But the boom in shale gas fracking raised concerns about pollution. Large volumes of water, along with sand and chemicals, are injected underground to break rock apart and free the oil and gas.