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Ohio Utica Shale permits slip 7% YOY in December 2019

Ohio's Utica Shale gas producers pulled 7% fewer permits in December 2019 than the year before, with publicly traded drillers ducking for cover as overwhelming natural gas supplies arrived on the market along with low commodity prices and a warmer-than-normal start to winter.

Private drillers Ascent Resources and Encino Energy LLC accounted for 75% of the 28 permits pulled in Ohio in December 2019, according to the state Department of Natural Resources database Jan. 17. Those 28 permits were up by two from the preceding month.

While the company names may have changed, the faces in the play have stayed the same. Ascent, founded by Chesapeake Energy Corp. co-founder Aubrey McClendon after he was fired at the Oklahoma City producer, is dominated by former Chesapeake executives and backed by private equity money from energy investors such as First Reserve Corp. and the Energy & Minerals Group. Encino, backed by investments from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, is chaired by former Range Resources Corp. Chairman, President and CEO John Pinkerton, with operations managed by COO Ray Walker, the petroleum engineer who drilled the first Marcellus Shale well for Range in 2004.

Coincidentally, Encino's leasehold is mostly acreage it bought for $2 billion from Chesapeake in 2018.

Ascent is Ohio's top gas producer by volume with nearly 2.5 Bcfe/d reported in the third quarter of 2019, while Encino is the third largest, with roughly 1 Bcfe/d of production. Publicly traded Gulfport Energy Corp. is the second-largest producer with nearly 1.5 Bcfe/d of third-quarter 2019 production.

Gulfport pulled four permits for new wells in December 2019, all in Belmont County in the dry gas window of the play. It pulled three permits in December 2018. Missing from December 2019's list were any new wells from operators such as EQT Corp., Equinor ASA, or Exxon Mobil Corp. shale gas unit XTO Energy Inc.

While Ascent continues to focus its efforts on the dry gas counties of Belmont and Jefferson along the Ohio River, Encino spread its bets across the wet and dry windows with permits in Jefferson, Harrison and Carroll counties. Carroll County was the original center of Utica activity a decade ago, and Harrison is its neighbor. Both are in the wet gas window where wells bring up light oil, gas and NGLs.

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