BISMARCK – An oil and gas company is working to wake what it calls a sleeping giant in an area of southern North Dakota far outside of the state’s traditional drilling region.
Strata-X Energy has received permits to drill four wells in Emmons and McIntosh counties as part of an exploratory program known as wildcatting, the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division announced Wednesday.
The company, headquartered in Denver, says on its website the wells will target natural gas in the shallow Niobrara Formation, a significant petroleum system the company says has been overlooked in the southeastern Williston Basin.
The permits, approved Wednesday, give Strata-X permission to drill two wells near Wishek and two wells near Linton, said Alison Ritter, the division’s spokeswoman.
The Oil and Gas Division issued a press release on the permits because it’s so rare for permits to be approved that far east of U.S. Highway 83, said Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms.
The state has no record of either county ever producing oil or gas, Ritter said. Another company attempted a drilling program in 2006 in Emmons County, but the wells were not economically successful, the Oil and Gas Division said.
“It’s pretty exciting to issue some permits that are outside what we consider the 19 oil and gas producing counties,” Ritter said.
Strata-X Energy calls its plan the Sleeping Giant Gas Project.
“The Niobrara Formation in this area has been overlooked despite gas shows and small flares being reported,” the company says on its website.
If the wells are successful, other operators will likely follow and do more exploration, Ritter said.
“If successful, any type of serious drilling would really be years away,” Ritter said. “We have to wait and see what they find out before anyone should get too excited.”
North Dakota has some natural gas wells, but most drilling in North Dakota targets oil.
Strata-X Energy, which did not respond to questions requesting comment Wednesday, says on its website that two interstate natural gas pipelines run through the area, which could facilitate marketing the gas.
It’s unknown when the company plans to begin drilling, but Ritter said she anticipates it will be soon because the company was eager to have permits approved.
Oilfield geologist Kathy Neset of Tioga said it’s exciting that the company is exploring and testing the formation.
“Niobrara is hugely productive in Wyoming,” Nest said. “To me, this leads toward many different formations that have potential in this Williston Basin.”
Neset estimated the Niobrara wells would be less than 4,000 feet below ground in North Dakota, compared to typical Bakken wells that are about 10,000 feet below ground.
In Wyoming, the Niobrara Formation is primarily targeted for oil, but also produces significant natural gas, said Mark Watson, petroleum engineer with the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Operators use horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques to produce from the Niobrara, Watson said.
“It’d be the same as what you do with the Bakken and the Three Forks,” Watson said.
Strata-X is also involved in oil and gas exploration and development in California, Texas, Illinois and Australia.