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Apr 3 / Dave Schumaker

Bakken Formation Could Boost Oil Reserves

We’ve written about the Bakken Formation before (most recently, in 2006), but according to various sources (I haven’t seen anything too solid on this, anyone else?) a new report to be released by the USGS within the next month will quantify the amount of oil in the formation beneath Montana and North Dakota.

Caveat: Most of the blogs currently talking about this topic are websites that lean pretty heavily to the right side of the political fence and are proclaiming this is the key to America’s energy independence.

While true in a sense, all of these sites seem to completely overlook the highly negative implications that mining and processing these oil shales will have on both the environment and climate change. The key to energy independence isn’t to find more oil elsewhere, it’s to stop using it.

The Bakken Oil Formation, which covers North Dakota and portions of Montana and South Dakota, is believed to have 175 to 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The 200,000 square mile reserve that[sic] was initially discovered in 1951.

In 2007, EOG Resources of Texas drilled a single well in Parshal N.D. that is expected to have yielded 700,000 barrels of oil. Marathon Oil is investing $1.5 billion and drilling 300 new wells.

Wow. 175 to 500 billion barrels of recoverable oil is an absolutely absurd amount. According to various reports, Saudi Arabia has around 300 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Update [Oct. 17 2008]: I notice this post in particular has been one of the more visited articles on this website. Here is a link to the report that the USGS released about the Bakken Formation back in April. According to the report, there are only 3 – 4 billion gallons of recoverable oil in the formation, not the 175 to 500 billion that was quoted in the article up above.

A U.S. Geological Survey assessment, released April 10, shows a 25-fold increase in the amount of oil that can be recovered compared to the agency’s 1995 estimate of 151 million barrels of oil.

Technically recoverable oil resources are those producible using currently available technology and industry practices. USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources.

New geologic models applied to the Bakken Formation, advances in drilling and production technologies, and recent oil discoveries have resulted in these substantially larger technically recoverable oil volumes. About 105 million barrels of oil were produced from the Bakken Formation by the end of 2007.

The USGS Bakken study was undertaken as part of a nationwide project assessing domestic petroleum basins using standardized methodology and protocol as required by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 2000.

The Bakken Formation estimate is larger than all other current USGS oil assessments of the lower 48 states and is the largest “continuous” oil accumulation ever assessed by the USGS. A “continuous” oil accumulation means that the oil resource is dispersed throughout a geologic formation rather than existing as discrete, localized occurrences. The next largest “continuous” oil accumulation in the U.S. is in the Austin Chalk of Texas and Louisiana, with an undiscovered estimate of 1.0 billions of barrels of technically recoverable oil.

“It is clear that the Bakken formation contains a significant amount of oil – the question is how much of that oil is recoverable using today’s technology?” said Senator Byron Dorgan, of North Dakota. “To get an answer to this important question, I requested that the U.S. Geological Survey complete this study, which will provide an up-to-date estimate on the amount of technically recoverable oil resources in the Bakken Shale formation.”

The USGS estimate of 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil has a mean value of 3.65 billion barrels. Scientists conducted detailed studies in stratigraphy and structural geology and the modeling of petroleum geochemistry. They also combined their findings with historical exploration and production analyses to determine the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil estimates.

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