Saskatchewan could be sitting on 25 billion to 100 billion barrels of sweet, light crude oil in the Bakken formation in the southeast part of the province, according to industry and government estimates.


By comparison, the heavy oil resource in west-central Saskatchewan, which is considered to have great potential for future production, is estimated to be 25 billion barrels of oil in place.

The huge potential of the Bakken play has industry and government officials gushing with superlatives.

"We're excited about it," said Ed Dancsok of Saskatchewan Energy and Resources. "It's probably the biggest oil find in Saskatchewan since the 1950s."

"The Bakken is the hottest play in Western Canada," said Trent Stangl, manager of marketing and investor relations for Crescent Point Energy Trust of Calgary, one of the top three players in the Bakken in Saskatchewan.

Gregg Smith, vice-president of Canadian operations for Petrobank Energy and Resources, another Calgary company with a large land position in southeastern Saskatchewan, goes one further. "It's fair to say, the Bakken play is the hottest play in North America," Smith said.

What has government and industry observers so excited is the sheer magnitude of the Bakken formation, which is found in the Williston Basin underlying much of North Dakota, eastern Montana, southeastern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba.

The Bakken is a geological formation of siltstone and sandstone about 300 metres below the Mississippian formation, where most Saskatchewan light oil production comes from. Bakken wells tend to be highly productive (200 barrels a day or more), producing sweet, light crude oil with 41 degree gravity, basically the highest grade of crude oil you can find anywhere.

While relatively new in Canada, Bakken exploration has been underway in the U.S. since 2000 and has increased dramatically in recent years. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bakken formation could contain a mind-boggling 413 billion barrels of oil in place.

Exactly how much of that Bakken oil in place is in Saskatchewan is a matter of some conjecture.

Fifteen years ago, the then-department of Energy and Mines estimated there was roughly 100 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken formation throughout the entire Williston Basin.

Dancsok, who co-authored the 1991 study, said the prevailing view in the geoscience community at the time was "the potential of the Bakken was immense, but the price of oil in 1991 was not such that people wanted to risk (exploration and development dollars)."

Dancsok estimated roughly 25 per cent of the Williston Basin, which covers some 200,000 square miles (518,000 square kilometres) is located in Saskatchewan. Based on that simple arithmetic, the estimate of Bakken oil in the province could range anywhere from 25 billion barrels to 100 billion barrels of oil in place.

Of course, geology isn't that simple.

"Whether the Bakken is evenly distributed throughout the basin is one question," Dancsok said. "It is deeper in North Dakota. But is the distribution of Bakken oil equal in Saskatchewan to North Dakota or Montana? That's a big question mark."

Smith says it's difficult to estimate how much oil is in the Bakken formation in Saskatchewan, but suggests that three to four billion barrels of oil could be in place in the area (22 townships) where Petrobank and other companies, like Crescent Point and Tristar, are active.

"This is very much a resource play," Smith said. "There will be other Bakken discoveries. This play will expand."

Source: CanWest Media Works (Star Phoenix Saskatoon)

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