A recently-released study found that the Three Forks Formation holds nearly 2 billion barrels of recoverable oil in North Dakota, another signal that the state’s latest oil boom will have a prolonged impact.


The report, compiled by the North Dakota Geological Survey and North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, estimated that the Three Forks Formation, which is located just below the Bakken Formation in western North Dakota, contains as much as 1.9 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

The study’s findings, combined with Bakken Formation estimates of approximately 2.1 billion barrels of recoverable oil in North Dakota, means that the state could be sitting on 4 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

The report confirms what those in the energy industry in western North Dakota have known for some time — that the Three Forks Formation is becoming an increasingly important part of the state’s oil play. Similar estimates of the Bakken had already been known, but quantifying the size of the Three Forks essentially doubles the amount of oil known to be recoverable in North Dakota.

“Knowing that there are additional recoverable deposits in the Bakken will help us attract new investments, build infrastructure and continue oil development in a sustainable way over the long-term,” North Dakota Governor John Hoeven said in a prepared statement. “That’s good news for North Dakota in terms of jobs and opportunity, and it’s also good news for our country in terms of greater domestic oil production and energy security.”

North Dakota, the nation’s fourth-largest oil producing state in the nation behind Texas, Alaska and California, had 4,736 active oil wells that pumped an all-time high of 277,403 barrels of oil a day in March, the most recent month for which data was available. In the middle of May, 112 rigs were drilling for oil in North Dakota. North Dakota’s rig count topped 100 in March for the first time since 1982. If crude oil prices remain high, the state appears to be in for a good run of oil field activity.

A revised U.S. Geological Survey assessment released in April 2008 estimated that the Bakken holds 3 billion to 4.3 billion barrels of oil that can be recovered in western North Dakota and eastern Montana using current technology. The estimate was the largest continuous oil accumulation ever assessed by the agency and showed a 25-fold increase in the amount of recoverable oil from the U.S. Geological Survey’s 1995 assessment of the U.S. side of the Bakken, which stretches north into Saskatchewan and the very southwestern tip of Manitoba. Advances in technology and drilling techniques in the future could push the numbers even higher in the future.

While much of the data in the new report was already known by those in the industry, it helps increase awareness of the Three Forks Formation in addition to the Bakken, which made headlines when the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2008 results were released.

The new study, which was released just before the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference & Expo was held in Bismarck in May, is similar to those compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2006 and 2008. The Three Forks projection is based on more than 200 well measurement logs and 85 sets of testimony from technical experts. Estimates were made on a county-by-county and statewide basis.

“As data has accumulated from new wells drilled and Oil and Gas Research Council sponsored projects, we became increasingly certain that the Three Forks contains additional recoverable reserves over and above our 2008 assessment of the Bakken members,” Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Oil and Gas Division, said in a prepared statement. “The real impact of this information is greater sustainability of this play and decreased geologic and economic risk across the areas of North Dakota where Bakken and Three Forks are present.”

Source: Prairie Business

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