It’s not Stark County’s oldest well. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources gives that honor to the “Frank Hartzell 1” well, which reached its total depth on Aug. 12, 1900. It was plugged and abandoned in August 1929.
Records show that DS Yoder 4 dates to Jan. 1, 1908, as do several other wells with the name “Yoder” in southeast Nimishillen Township. State officials have designated DS Yoder 4 as being the oldest productive well in the county. It pulls from the Berea sandstone formation, although state records don’t report the well’s depth.
Stark is among the 76 Ohio counties where oil or natural gas have been found. Ohio’s oldest commercial oil well dates to 1860 in Washington County, while natural gas wells have been producing since 1884.
The Ohio Oil and Gas Association notes that Ohio lays claim to the first discovery of oil, from a drilled well in 1814, when a saltwater well found oil 475 feet underground in Noble County.
With that history, it’s not surprising that oil companies once again are scouring the state in search of oil and natural gas. This time, they hope to tap the Utica and Marcellus shale formations.
The uptick has raised environmental concerns about a process used — hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking — to release oil and gas from the rock formations. But oil producers say fracking has been successful for decades.
Nearly 6,500 wells have been drilled through the years in Stark County and about 3,000 of those wells continue to produce oil and natural gas, said Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program. Most of the wells are in the Clinton sandstone formation, which lies about 4,600 feet deep, between the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.
About 90 percent of the wells drilled into Clinton sandstone are commercially successful. The wells are known for producing both oil and gas, sometimes in combination, said William G. Williams, a lawyer with Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty who has specialized in the oil and gas business.
The East Canton Oil Field, which stretches from Lake Township in a relatively straight line south toward Uhrichsville, was discovered in 1947 and taps the Clinton sandstone. Although wells in the area remain productive, state officials believe the field can generate more oil and gas through a secondary recovery technique that injects carbon dioxide into the rock formation.
Local companies — Belden & Blake, MB Operating and Lomak — drilled many of the Clinton wells. Through the years, the properties and companies have changed hands. Now, many of the wells are owned by EnerVest, a Houston-based company with a regional office north of Hartville in Portage County.
EnerVest and Chesapeake Energy are two of the companies making the initial push to drill the Utica shale formation in eastern Ohio.
The nature of the rock formations prevented companies from drilling many shale wells in the past. Shale formations are thin bands of rock. While geologists have known the formations contain oil and gas, the narrow bands usually weren’t productive enough for commercial use, said Doug Gonzalez, president of GonzOil, a gas exploration company based in Jackson Township.
“We always knew there was a lot of potential in shale,” said Gonzalez, a geologist who found himself working in the oil industry after graduating from Kent State University in the early 1980s.
During the past 15-20 years, developments in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have allowed access to shale rock formations. That has spurred the renewed interest in drilling Stark County’s oil and natural gas fields.
Drillers can reach a large section of shale rock by bending and drilling sideways. Hydraulic fracturing — a process where a slurry of water, chemicals and sand is injected into a well under high pressure — is used to break the shale and release the oil and gas.
TECHNIQUE NOT NEW
But even horizontal drilling is “old news” in some Stark County oil and gas circles. The 1989 annual report for the former Belden & Blake describes horizontal drilling and notes the potential to penetrate a larger section of a producing zone.
Belden & Blake also is credited with doing some of the first hydraulic fracturing of wells in Ohio.
A September 1954 article in the Hartville News featured photographs of Belden & Blake workers who were hydraulic fracturing a well on farm southeast of Hartville. The article states that hydraulic fracturing was first used in West Texas oil fields in 1948, and credits Belden & Blake for fracking the first Appalachian-area well near East Sparta in July 1952.
The articles describes a different process for hydraulic fracturing. A mixture of oil and sand was being pumped into the well, which was 4,658 feet deep, to crack the Clinton sandstone formation and release more oil and gas.
‘SHOOT THE WELL’
While hydraulic fracturing has caused concern for some environmentalists, industry officials contend it’s an improvement over earlier methods.
Reda, of the Ohio energy education program, said dynamite and nitroglycerin were used to stimulate wells in early years. Explosives were dropped down the well to break the rock, which led to the phrase “shoot the well,” she said.
Past drilling helped Stark County’s economy through the years, Williams said.
Landowners were paid to lease mineral rights and collected royalties. Entrepreneurs launched businesses drilling wells or serving the drilling companies. The industry created jobs.
It’s happened in cycles with each oil discovery, and it’s beginning again.
Last summer, when companies began asking to lease mineral rights, most offered about $800 per acre and royalties of 8 percent. The lease prices and royalties have been climbing, and more large companies are entering the market, Williams said. Lease rights are nearing $5,000 per acre in some Ohio counties.
Williams estimates that mineral rights of some sort have been leased on 95 percent of the land in Stark County. Much of that is because of the land leased years ago during earlier oil booms. Also there is large section of Jackson Township — drilled during the 1930s — that now serves as a natural gas storage area of Dominion East Ohio Gas.