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Third level of shale coming into play

| Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A third layer of shale is drawing more and more attention from Western Pennsylvania's gas drillers.

Consol Energy Inc. on Monday became at least the third company to tout test success in the Upper Devonian, a mix of sandstone and shale layers just a few hundred feet above the famous Marcellus. The Cecil-based company joins Rex Energy Corp. and Range Resources Corp., which for two years has claimed it has a triple stack of gas-rich shale, including the Utica, even farther below.

Consol's announcement “certainly adds credibility,” to the Upper Devonian, said Pete Stark, vice president for industry relations at IHS Inc., an energy research and consulting firm in suburban Denver. “But I wouldn't look for it to turn around and be an immediate bonanza. It's a leading indicator of what the future potential has in store.”

Consol's first exploration hit the Upper Devonian at 12,490 feet deep in Greene County, the company said in its quarterly operations update. It drew about 3 million cubic feet per day, a third of what two nearby Marcellus wells drew, Consol said.

That's in line with what other companies are finding, Stark said. Rex, a State College-based company, got about the same production from an Upper Devonian well it drilled last year in Butler County, the company has said. Range has drilled four wells in Washington County, getting about 4 million cubic feet per day, plus another 1,000 barrels of liquid gases common in that part of the region, according to the company's investor presentation.

“It's still very early, but we're very excited about the potential, especially in Southwestern Pennsylvania,” said Matt Pitzarella, Range's Cecil-based spokesman. “The Upper Devonian mimics the Marcellus,” bringing up a collection of liquid gases including ethane and propane along with methane.

The public doesn't have a really good estimate of what the Upper Devonian holds, said Doug Patchen, director of the Appalachian Oil and Natural Gas Research Consortium at West Virginia University. Drilling companies are starting to get a good sense, though, because they get a nearly free chance to analyze it every time they drill through it to get to the Marcellus and the Utica, he said.

“I think there's now just a real effort in the companies to look at every black shale,” Patchen said.

It is more likely a long-term play, experts said. The Devonian gets all its gas from what has floated up from the Marcellus over the ages, making that formation the easy, more bountiful target, experts said. Drillers will target the Marcellus first, and, in most cases, come back for the Upper Devonian later, maybe generations from now, they said.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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