Successful test well increases the potential for the Bakken

WILLISTON, N.D. – An oil well in McKenzie County is being called a “game-changer” for the Bakken.

Continental Resources announced this month the first well to successfully produce oil deeper into the Three Forks zone of the Bakken oil system, a milestone that could mean there is more recoverable oil in North Dakota than originally estimated.

John Harju, associate director for research with the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota, said Continental’s test deeper into the Three Forks is significant for the state.

“This is really exciting news and dramatically heightens the even bigger potential of the Bakken system than previously estimated,” Harju said.

The development this month is a successful test with an oil well called the Charlotte 3-22H in McKenzie County.

“We’re very excited about what we’ve seen here,” said Jack Stark, Continental Resources senior vice president for exploration. “This brings us one step closer to proving there are more recoverable reserves from the Three Forks than we originally thought, but we’ve got to do a lot more testing.”

Continental Resources has pioneered exploration in the Three Forks formation, which lies below the Bakken formation. Oil in the Three Forks is the same light, sweet crude that is being produced from the middle layer of Bakken shale, Stark said.

Historically, drilling in the Bakken oil system targeted the middle Bakken shale and the upper Three Forks, Stark said.

In 2011, Continental Resources, the largest lease-holder in the Bakken took deep core samples that extended through all layers of the Three Forks.

Those core samples, which were taken from wells in a large area, showed that instead of just two oil-producing layers, there are potentially five: the middle Bakken plus four layers, known as benches in the oil industry, of the Three Forks, Stark said.

At that time, Continental changed its estimates of the total amount of oil in place in the Bakken system from 577 billion barrels of oil to 903 billion barrels of oil, a 57 percent increase.

The amount of oil that can be recovered, however, is a very small percentage.

In 2010, Continental estimated that the Bakken field would eventually yield 24 billion barrels of oil equivalent based on technology available at the time.

New developments with the Three Forks may increase that number, but more testing needs to be done, Stark said.

About a year ago, Continental announced the first successful test of the second bench of the Three Forks.

The latest successful test well was in the third bench.

In a news release, Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm said “this could be a real game-changer.”

The company has a 14-well drilling program in 2013 to further test the deeper layers of the Three Forks.

Continental expects to have a test well in the fourth bench of the Three Forks as early as mid-2013, Stark said.

Geologist Kathy Neset said she expects other companies will begin drilling deeper into the Three Forks.

The U.S. Geological Survey said in 2008 that there is an estimated 4 billion barrels of oil that is technically recoverable from the Bakken, but those estimates did not include the Three Forks. The USGS is updating its estimates to include the Three Forks, and Continental is providing information from its tests, Stark said.

Alison Ritter, spokeswoman for the Department of Mineral Resources, said the department can’t comment on the specifics of the Continental Resources test well because it’s on confidential status until mid-March.

But from what Continental has announced publicly, it is big news for the state, Ritter said.

“When you look back at the history of the Bakken, there have been milestone wells along the way,” Ritter said. “This one definitely has the potential to be a well like that.”

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