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Until recently, the organic-rich Marcellus Shale, although recognized as a major source rock, was not a significant hydrocarbon producer in the Appalachian Basin. The modern era of Marcellus Shale production in the Appalachian Basin began in October 2004 when the Range Resources 1 Renz Unit well in Mount Pleasant Township of Washington County, Pennsylvania, was completed using a large Barnett Shale style slick-water frac treatment.This completion established the production rates needed to encourage both industry and public interest in the Marcellus Shale.Two characteristics of the Big Sandy field are its significant underpressured profile and a well-established open natural fracture network.This distinguishes the Big Sandy field from modern shale plays such as the Barnett, Fayetteville, and Haynesville shales, which have higher pressure gradients combined with lower density open natural fracture networks.These shallow wells were used mainly for domestic and light industrial purposes and were extensively developed from the 1860s through the mid-1900s.The first major shale discovery in the Appalachian Basin was in 1921 in northeastern Kentucky, which established the Big Sandy field.
In Allegheny and Washington counties of Pennsylvania, two of the four attempted tests of the Marcellus were completed with carbon dioxide or nitrogen foam treatments and showed the poorest results of these early tests.
As of September 2009, more than 70 companies have acquired lease positions and drilled numerous horizontal and vertical discovery wells, establishing a broad play area for the Marcellus Shale, encompassing more than 28 million acres across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York, Maryland, and Ohio.
The play has attracted the attention of independents, major oil companies, and international partners, as discoveries continue to expand the scope of the play and shed light on the formation's reservoir characteristics and economic potential.
To date, a total of more than 21,000 wells have been drilled in the Big Sandy field in eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, southern Ohio, and southwestern Virginia.
The primary target in the Big Sandy field is the Upper Devonian Huron Shale, with contributions from the Cleveland, Rhinestreet, and Marcellus Shale intervals.