It is becoming impossible to ignore the Bakken Shale in North Dakota as an oil play that may be at the center of a domestic upswing in U.S. production, according to a report released Wednesday by the Washington, DC-based Energy Policy Research Foundation Inc. (EPRINC).
How big the Bakken becomes will be largely determined by geology, technology and government policy, EPRINC said. Among the 17-page report's conclusions are that the art and science of shale gas has helped unlock shale oil in the Bakken, and the play now offers "potential for technology transfer" to other U.S. basins and worldwide.
"The Bakken Boom" is meant as an introductory document on North Dakota's shale oil, which the report describes as "conventional, light-sweet crude oil, trapped 10,000 feet below the surface within shale rock," EPRINC said. The Bakken is really three layers: an upper layer of shale rock, a middle of sandstone/dolomite, and a lower layer of shale.
The Bakken has made North Dakota currently the fourth largest oil producing state and one of the biggest onshore plays in the United States. "It is largely responsible for reversing two decades of declining oil production [in the United States]," EPRINC said.
Calling it "prolific and exciting," the report authors also acknowledge that the Bakken carries many questions and uncertainties, particularly regarding the sustainability of the play. Nevertheless, a combination of factors has led to the success of the Bakken as an oil play, and they provide "lessons to future shale oil development."
A relative lack of federal land in North Dakota and a favorable regulatory environment have contributed to the Bakken's rapid success as the state's oil production has doubled since 2008, hitting a high of 360,000 b/d in April before flooding caused that number to decline. Since 1995, the U.S. Geological Survey's Bakken reserve estimates went from 151 million bbl to 4.3 billion bbl in 2008. In January North Dakota's estimate jumped to 11 billion bbl.
"The oil companies involved have shown a remarkable capability to deploy new drilling and completion techniques necessary to match the growing knowledge of the geology," the report concluded, adding that a shortage of takeaway capacity eventually should be rectified. "Interest to expand [takeaway infrastructure] capacity among both railroads and pipeline companies suggest that constraints will be alleviated in the near future."
According to company reports, Hess Corp is the top Bakken net acreage holder with 900,000 acres. Rounding out the top five are Continental Resources (868,900), Whiting Petroleum (603,702), EOG Resources (600,000) and ConocoPhillips (460,000).