How Much Can The Oil Patch Give? Geological Survey Assesses Bakken, Three Forks In ND, Mont

From my colleague April Barumgarten of The Dickinson Press:


One question on the minds of energy enthusiast is how much oil and gas the Oil Patch is going to produce. The U.S. Geological Survey plans to have a new estimate and answers in the fall of 2013, officials said.

“The more we know about the geology, the more robust and accurate the assessment can be,” said Stephanie Gaswirth, USGS task chief of the Williston Basin assessment, adding there has been pressure from the oil industry to do the assessment.

USGS will assess the Bakken and Three Forks formations within the Williston Basin so it can estimate the “undiscovered recoverable resources” in the oil fields. It did not study the Three Forks Formation in its 2008 assessment, Gaswirth said.

“At that point, there was little activity in the Three Forks, and there has been quite a boom in the Bakken and Three Forks,” she said. “There’s a lot of new information both geologic and production wise.”

USGS estimated that North Dakota and Montana had 3 billion to 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the Bakken Formation, according to the study in 2008, which was 25 times the 1995 estimate. Officials believe the numbers were an underestimation, said Vicky Steiner, North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties executive director.

“If it isn’t correct, we do need to know what the correct numbers are,” she said. “The more good data we have, the more comfortable people are.”

North Dakota produced about 17 million barrels in January from more than 6,600 producing wells. North Dakota is the third highest oil-producing state next to Alaska (No. 2) and Texas (No. 1), according to the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.

The study will allow businesses to make better investments in cities in the state, Steiner added.

“It gives the oil industry a better framework on how to manage their resources if they know where the boundaries are,” she said. “It’s hard to get those investment dollars if the investment community doesn’t feel comfortable that the play is long-lasting.”

Steiner said companies in the oil industry are looking at communities across western North Dakota to inhabit, and the study is just one more piece to the puzzle to help them make those decisions.

Gaswirth was not sure what numbers would come out of the study, but she said it is “well justified” to look at the formations again.