In a year when the country’s natural-gas production went down, Ohio’s went up — way up.
The 2016 results, part of a government report issued this week, show that Ohio passed West Virginia to become the nation’s sixth-largest gas producer. Ohio also had the largest percentage increase of any of the top states.
“The region has been blessed with this great resource below us, and these companies are just starting to tap into that,” said Larry Merry, executive director of the Belmont County Port Authority, an economic-development office in the heart of Ohio’s shale region.
Ohio energy companies produced 1,465 billion cubic feet of gas, up from 1,015 billion in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration. (The figures are from a report on “marketed production” of gas; they are slightly different from figures issued by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.)
The growth is notable because last year was difficult for many people in the energy business. Low prices for oil and gas and cost-cutting led to a pervading sense of gloom among producers.
Nearly all of Ohio’s gas comes from the Utica and Marcellus shale formations, which are deep below ground and accessible through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
A few positive factors helped to cancel out the negative ones for Ohio.
First, several pipelines and processing sites came online, which allowed producers to move some of the pent-up gas supply to market.
“In Ohio, we certainly have had a lot of gas behind pipe that was waiting on connections,” said Ben Ebenhack, a petroleum-engineering professor at Marietta College.
Second, Ohio had the good fortune that many of its gas wells turned out to be prolific, with eye-popping output. Many of the top wells were in the eastern Ohio counties along the Ohio River, such as Belmont and Monroe.
The United States produced 28,296 billion cubic feet, down from 28,753 billion the prior year. Much of the decrease can be attributed to Texas, the country’s leading producer, which produced 6,985 billion cubic feet, down from 7,881 billion.
The places with declining production probably were responding to low prices and a glut of supply. Among the exceptions were Ohio and Pennsylvania, where new pipelines helped to encourage production.
West Virginia’s production has grown, but at a much slower rate. That can be blamed on geography: Most of the state is south of the most-productive regions, Ebenhack said. Eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania benefit more from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations, he said.
The near future for the natural-gas industry in Ohio looks positive. One reason is that prices seem to be stabilizing, with the U.S. benchmark price hovering in the range of $3 per thousand cubic feet of gas. The industry went on a wild ride last year, with prices dropping to less than $2.
Merry, the port authority official, was interviewed while he was attending a conference at the Belmont County Fairgrounds for the oil and gas industry and suppliers.
“We’ve got a heck of a crowd here,” he said.
All of Merry’s evidence points toward 2017 production dramatically outpacing 2016′s. In other words, if Ohio’s output soared in a bad year, it could be interesting to see what a good one — or even an average one — looks like.