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Innovation, Refracks Predicted to Drive Future Bakken Growth in North Dakota

A bullish picture of Bakken Shale development driven by technology advances and innovation was laid out this month at the annual meeting of the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC) in Grand Forks.

Advances in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and resource assessment technologies were among a list of the prospects outlined during presentations by experts and state officials about advancing production in the nation's second biggest oil producing state after Texas.

"The Bakken doesn't just contribute oil, it provides the drive to innovate," said Charlie Gorecki, director of subsurface research/development at the North Dakota Energy and Environmental Resource Center.

Gorecki said growth of the Bakken has been driven by improvements in oilfield/well characterization, more efficient production and safer operations.

While only a small percentage of the overall Bakken resource base is recoverable today, many producers have begun recompleting older wells, also known as refracks, using updated drilling techniques.

Refracking wells in the Bakken, considered a prime location for the reworked completions, should unlock more production, particularly for EOR. This week QEP Resources Inc. joined the move to refracking in the Bakken using a program that has yielded success in the Haynesville Shale.

Department of Minerals Director Lynn Helms also outlined various oilfield services technologies that are improving output and reducing costs, including through refracking wells. One technology he highlighted as improving production is through dual fracks, where two fracks are performed in each stage of the completions process.

Geologist and Neset Consulting’s President Kathleen Neset noted that laterals drilled into Bakken formations two miles long also have become common, and they offer high returns.

"Three-mile laterals are still drilled in areas that are less accessible because of topography or lake beds," she said. "Shale plays outside of the Bakken still drill one-mile laterals until economics are proven for longer laterals."

Drilling in the Bakken is as safe as it is in other parts of the country, Neset said, noting there had been "no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination from fracking itself in one million wells fracked during the past 60 years."

A North Dakota business-led energy coalition group, Bakken Backers, said per-capita personal income of energy workers in North Dakota is now second highest in the nation after Texas at more than $57,000. Nearly 20% of the state's private sector jobs are in oil and gas.

Shale-impacted employment climbed to 50,000 jobs from 5,000 between 2005 and 2015, according to Bakken Backers Director Rob Lindberg. Before the oil price crash in 2014, he said, “production jobs comprised more than 50% of all jobs for the first time since the start of the Bakken."

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