U.S. drillers that set up rigs amid the rolling farmland of eastern Ohio on projections underground shale held $500 billion of oil are packing up.
Four of the biggest stakeholders in untapped deposits known as the Utica Shale have put up all or part of their acreage for sale, as prices fall by a third in some cases. Chesapeake Energy Corp. (CHK) of Oklahoma City, the biggest U.S. shale lease owner, last week offered up 94,200 acres (38,121 hectares). EnerVest Ltd. and Devon Energy Corp. (DVN) are selling as early results show lower production than their predictions.
“The results were somewhat disappointing,” said Philip Weiss, an analyst with Argus Research in New York. Early data show “it’s not as good as we thought it was going to be.”
The flip-flop underscores the difficulties faced by even experienced drillers around the world in tapping the sedimentary rock. In California, Occidental Petroleum Corp. was stymied by the Monterey Shale’s fault-riddled terrain. In Poland, Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) stopped drilling because shale output was minimal. China’s failures with shale gas drove producers Cnooc Ltd. and China Petrochemical Corp. to seek expertise in North America.
In Ohio’s Utica formation, which runs eastward as far as New York, drillers frequently found the rock too dense and underground pressures insufficient to produce oil.
The rush to buy acreage has reversed.
The Utica saw one deal valued at more than $50 million in the fourth quarter of 2012, compared with seven in North Dakota’s more productive Bakken Shale and six in Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale, according to the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.
By 2017, the Utica should produce a daily average of 200,000 barrels of oil, Wood Mackenzie Ltd. estimated. The Eagle Ford by then will be producing 1.15 million barrels a day, almost six times more.
“People started to realize that, you know what, maybe the oil window of the play is not all it’s cracked up to be,” said Jonathan Garrett,