November 4, 2009


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

The news from North Dakota’s oil patch just keeps getting better and better. According to the U.S. Energy Department, North Dakota recently became the No. 4 oil producing state in the nation surpassing Louisiana for that honor.
According to the agency’s Energy Information Administration, North Dakota produced 6.38 million barrels of crude in May, edging Louisiana, which had 6.34 million barrels for the month. Oklahoma was ranked fifth, at 5.7 million barrels for that month, according to the most recent figures. During the month of May, North Dakota averaged 206,000 barrels daily in May, compared with 205,000 barrels for Louisiana.
And it is the rich Bakken shale and the Three Forks-Sanish formations in the western part of the state that are driving North Dakota’s oil production.
North Dakota produced a record 62.8 million barrels of oil last year, up nearly 18 million barrels from 2007. And the good news is that state and industry officials expect another record this year, and perhaps even more production in 2010 when a new rail shipping station and a pipeline expansion project are expected to come on line in northwestern North Dakota.
So how much oil does the Bakken and Three Forks-Sanish formations hold?
That’s the million dollar question. And depending upon the continued development of drilling technology, no one really knows the true potential of the amount of recoverable oil.
But this much is known for sure.
The Bakken Formation could be the largest oil field remaining in the continental United States and among the largest in the world. It covers approximately 200,000 square miles under much of North Dakota and parts of adjacent states. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has estimated the Bakken’s reserves at between 271 and 503 billion barrels of oil, with a mean estimate of 413 billion barrels. The low end estimate is slightly larger than Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves and 10 times larger than the current proven reserves of the United States.
And those figures don’t take into consideration the recently discovered Three Forks-Sanish Formation, which according to state oil officials, could rival the Bakken Formation.
To put those billions of barrels of oil into perspective, according to an energy analyst, if the Bakken and Three Forks-Sanish formations only produced 200 billion barrels of oil, it would be about four times the size of Alaska’s entire oil cache. And those 200 billion barrels alone are enough oil to provide the equivalent of 30 years worth of the United States’ oil needs at current usage levels, without having to import one barrel from abroad.
And that is good news for the economy of North Dakota and the nation.