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Despite 'Modest' Results, Fracking Interest Remains In Eastern Kentucky

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There’s still a lot of interest in the possibility of large-scale gas and oil drilling in Eastern Kentucky, but activity in the Rogersville Shale has slowed over the past few months.

The Rogersville Shale is a Cambrian-age formation that lies under much of Eastern Kentucky and extends into West Virginia. Over the past two years, speculation has grown that the shale play could be as big as or bigger than the Marcellus and Utica shales, which spurred a wave of interest in the region. Many landowners in Lawrence County, Kentucky, reported visits by landmen looking to lease their mineral rights.

Drilling into shale like the Rogersville requires large-scale hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The technique involves injecting large quantities of water and sand into the wells to release more oil and gas.

Dave Harris of the Kentucky Geological Survey said so far, five test wells have been drilled into the Rogersville. Four of those are in Kentucky and one is in West Virginia.

The production data of all but one of those wells is a secret. But in August, Cimarex subsidiary Bruin Exploration released data on the Sylvia Young well in Lawrence County. Harris said the results were underwhelming.

“The well showed fairly modest results,” he said.

It produced about 115,000 cubic feet of gas and 19 barrels of oil per day.

But, Harris said, that doesn’t mean the Rogersville won’t prove profitable for the industry eventually. Sylvia Young was a vertical well where operators drill down into the earth. There’s a chance that a horizontal well, where operators drill down vertically and then branch out horizontally, would produce a lot more oil and gas.

“It is definitely not proven yet,” he said. “The positive side, I guess, is that they were able to produce some hydrocarbons from the Rogersville shale. So they’ve proven that the Rogersville is capable of producing hydrocarbons. But whether it’s capable of producing it in sufficient quantities and volumes and rates remains to be shown.”

When speculation began in the Rogersville, many residents worried that fracking would cause environmental, health and seismic problems. Those concerns persist. Bruin’s data show the company used 677,000 gallons of fluid to frack the Sylvia Young well in Lawrence County, as well as nearly 600,000 pounds of sand.

With the underwhelming initial results out of the Sylvia Young well, Bruin is now drilling the well horizontally. But Harris said the holdups to further development in the Rogersville are low oil and gas prices. Natural gas is currently about $1.93 per MMBtu, which is the lowest it’s been since 1999. Oil prices also recently hit a low: It’s selling for about $30 a barrel.

For producers to see economic benefits to drilling in the deep, expensive Rogersville Shale, Harris said oil will have to reach $60 or $70 a barrel, and gas $3 or $4 per MMBtu.