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Many Wells to Go in Williston, ND Oil/Gas Head Says

There are several other plays and deeper formations yet to be tapped in the Bakken/Three Forks shale play, and the industry is still trying to determine how many total wells it will take to fully recover all the resources in the area, North Dakota's chief oil/natural gas regulator, Lynn Helms, said Thursday during the final day of the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck.

Helms stressed that there is still a "great deal of experimentation" that will continue on how many wells are ultimately going to be needed to fully capture the resources in place.

Helms said that even after 10 years of developing the Bakken and about 1 million b/d of production, well density questions remain unanswered as operators such as Continental Resources Inc. experiment with different wellsite combinations. "We're seeing a construction boom in this state like we haven't seen in 100 years," Helms said.

Helms said April data should verify the one-million-b/d milestone has been reached, but the future of the overall Williston is still to be written, and other new plays, of smaller potential than the Bakken, are being examined. They are in very early "discovery" and "homestead" phases. By comparison, Helms places the Bakken in the "harvest" phase.

For the Bakken an "optimization" effort is in full swing, Helms said. "[Operators] are working on interval distances and spacing technologies and other efforts. Ninety percent of the Bakken is now in the harvest phase. In the Bakken/Three Forks operators are trying to find ways to drill wells and eliminate the water question. With oil prices being what they are and the conditions up there, they should find ways to handle the water.

"The increased handling of water is improving rapidly," he said. "They've discovered that if they put the infrastructure in place to produce the water, handle the water, then they can take care of this issue." Helms said this was the first of the Williston fields to enter the harvest phase."

Helms said as the exploration and development spreads in the Williston there is going to be "a great deal of variability. "It is going to vary a lot across the basin; even 10 years out, we are still trying to maximize that primary recovery."

Helms said the Bakken is still "the tip of the spear" in terms of liquid, unconventional resource plays, adding that the earliest successful shale, Barnett in Texas, was dry gas not the very wet oil/gas play that the Bakken has become.

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