Ohio’s Utica shale is approaching its first major check on valuation as EV Energy Partners LP (Nasdaq: EVEP) and its parent company, EnerVest LP , readies recently derisked Utica holdings in the core of the liquids-rich window for sale before year-end 2012.

The transaction will be the first market test of the Utica after more than a year of drilling to delineate the play. Previous transactions, including the November 2011 $3.4 billion joint venture involving Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK), EnerVest LP and Total SA (NYSE: TOT), occurred before widespread drilling began and represented the triumph of hope over hard facts in relation to the Utica’s potential.

In September 2011, Chesapeake announced the results of four horizontal Utica tests drilled in the summer of 2011. The subsequent CHK JV was announced six weeks later, valuing its Utica holdings at $15,000 per acre.

Mark Houser , president and CEO of EV Energy Partners, updated its Utica sales status for attendees at the IPAA OGIS meeting in San Francisco.

“EVEP, as an MLP, doesn’t really believe we should be developing shale plays,” Houser told attendees. “We should be buying them once they are developed. We were blessed with this position. What we’ve done is, first of all we’ve derisked the play. Second of all we’ve initiated a process to sell all or part of our position using Jefferies, which has done a lot of these shale deals.”

EVEP’s operated position in the Utica is currently in data rooms for evaluation by potential buyers. The firm is marketing its non-operated positions separately.

“Jefferies will tell you the Utica properties has one of the strongest depths of interest of any shale deal they’ve done. Those are their words, not ours,” Houser said. “We’re actually pursuing for EVEP, hopefully, an asset swap. It may not happen, but it may. It would be more tax-effective. But we also have some properties we can drop down to make this a tax-effective process because if we simply sold the acreage for cash that would create capital gains for the MLP investors.”

The sales process has focused on a handful of very large companies. If an asset swap goes through, it would involve EVEP obtaining mature legacy acreage elsewhere from the buyer. EVEP and EnerVest LP will retain rights to legacy production above the Utica/Point Pleasant formation and a 2.7% overriding royalty interest (ORRI) on its non-JV acres and