An oil reservoir in western North Dakota holds nearly as much recoverable crude as the rich Bakken shale formation above it, a new state study shows.


The study released last week by North Dakota's Industrial Commission said current technology could lead to the recovery of about 1.9 billion barrels in the Three Forks-Sanish formation.

“This is good news for North Dakota and our country,” said Gov. John Hoeven. “This indicates more sustainability in this oil play.”

The Three Forks is made up of sand and porous rock directly below North Dakota's portion of the Bakken formation, where oil-producing rock is sandwiched between layers of shale about 2 miles underground.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, cautioned against overreacting to the state's findings. He said oilmen have known for years the Three Forks holds a vast cache of crude but technology and oil prices haven't made it economical until now.

“Oil just doesn't come when it's in a study,” he said. “For the guy out there drilling, this helps show investors this thing is for real.”

Separate formation?

Geologists and oil companies have mixed opinions whether the Three Forks is a separate oil-producing formation or if it acts as a trap, catching oil that leaks from the Bakken shale above. Some have said it could be a combination of both.

The Bakken formation encompasses 25,000 square miles in North Dakota, Montana, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Two-thirds of it is in western North Dakota.

Two years ago, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that up to 4.3 billion barrels of oil could be recovered from the Bakken in North Dakota and Montana, using current technology. The agency called it the largest continuous oil accumulation it has ever assessed. The federal report found up to 2.6 billion barrels of Bakken crude could be recovered in North Dakota, compared with the state's estimate of 2.1 billion barrels.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the Three Forks added about 500 million barrels to its Bakken estimate, though it was based on production from traditional vertical wells drilled decades ago. The agency has said that it would need at least five years of data from horizontal drilling for a comprehensive study. Horizontal drilling in Three Forks didn't begin until two years ago.

‘A remarkable thing'

Lynn Helms, director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, said the state study based its findings on production results from 181 wells in the Three Forks.

“It's a remarkable thing,” Helms said of North Dakota's oil reserves, which he said have essentially doubled. “It's a real blessing to the residents of North Dakota.”

North Dakota produced 79.7 million barrels of oil in 2009, up from a record 62.8 million barrels the year before. North Dakota surpassed Louisiana last year as the fourth-largest oil-producing state. Texas leads the list, followed by Alaska and California.

Steve Grape, the domestic reserves project manager for the U.S. Department of Energy's information administration, said the state's Three Forks findings would not boost the country's 19 billion barrels of proven oil reserves at present. He said there is a distinction between proven reserves and oil that can be technically recoverable, the latter he called “pie-in-the-sky estimates.”

 Source: chron business

DiscoverWeyburn.com is Weyburn's only source for community news and information such as weather and classifieds.