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USGS Assesses Bakken Formation to Hold 3 to 4.3 Billion Barrels of Technically Recoverable Oil; 25 Times More Than 1995 Estimate

Map showing Williston Basin Province boundary (in red), Bakken-Lodgepole Total Petroleum System (TPS) (in blue), and major structural features in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Click to enlarge.

North Dakota and Montana have an estimated 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil in an area known as the Bakken Formation of the Williston Basin, according to a just-released assessment by the US Geological Survey (USGS). This latest assessment 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.

The assessment also identified 1.85 trillion cubic feet of associated/dissolved natural gas, and 148 million barrels of natural gas liquids.

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.

Technically recoverable oil resources are those producible using currently available technology and industry practices. 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 US is in the Austin Chalk of Texas and Louisiana, with an undiscovered estimate of 1.0 billions of barrels of technically recoverable oil.

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.

USGS worked with the North Dakota Geological Survey, a number of petroleum industry companies and independents, universities and other experts to develop a geological understanding of the Bakken Formation. These groups provided critical information and feedback on geological and engineering concepts important to building the geologic and production models used in the assessment.

Five continuous assessment units (AU) were identified and assessed in the Bakken Formation of North Dakota and Montana: the Elm Coulee-Billings Nose AU, the Central Basin-Poplar Dome AU, the Nesson-Little Knife Structural AU, the Eastern Expulsion Threshold AU, and the Northwest Expulsion Threshold AU.

At the time of the assessment, a limited number of wells have produced oil from three of the assessments units in Central Basin-Poplar Dome, Eastern Expulsion Threshold, and Northwest Expulsion Threshold. The Elm Coulee oil field in Montana, discovered in 2000, has produced about 65 million barrels of the 105 million barrels of oil recovered from the Bakken Formation.




This is only enough to offset our imports for one year (Using the EIA number of 10.1 million barrels per day). Keep drilling guys, the answer has to be around here somewhere.

So how will this be recovered? I suspect that large areas of ND will soon become strip mines.


We are akin to heroin addicts, who just found a stack of dirty needles, and are giddy about it.


No this is more like a single dirty needle found behind the tv covered in rat fesses, its useless. The USA supposedly has 1.5 trillion barrels of oil shale, where?


Ben, this is not "oil shale" as seen in the Green River formation. Bakken contains regular oil in a shale formation, extracted by conventional drilling techniques. "Oil shale" is actually not oil at all, but an oil precursor called kerogen. Kerogen needs extensive treatment to become oil.

The term "shale oil" should be removed from the headline to prevent confusion.


Good point, removed.

Alex Kovnat

If it is really true the world is coming to an end from global warming, then discovering billions of barrels of oil is like an alcoholic discovering a billion barrels of whiskey.


Alex Kovnat,

Global warming is not the end of the world, its just the world is changes... for the worse for most people.


the tricky phrase here is "technically recoverable." At what cost?


And nothing cute, fuzzy, or photogenic lives in North Dakota, either! Fire up the drills.

Harvey D

Good News. The world's oil addiction will be satified for 40 more days. Nine more like this and we will be OK for one more year.


Fred, the term technically recoverable basically means using techniques already in place at producing wells. Since producing wells get shut down if they're not making a profit, the term implies economic viability. I have read elsewhere Bakken recovery costs run around $30/bbl.

Also note that Bakken is believed to be much larger than this report indicates. Oil in place is estimated at 200-500 billion bbls. Recovery estimates run the gamut from a couple percent to as high as 50%, which could increase US reserves by up to 10x. Time will tell.


It's full of oil everywhere. It's just that since 1945 the c.i.a organize and rule the world. They have monopolize the oil business worldwide and there is no longer competition. Everything is decided by few people and they say continously that there is no more oil reserve, that it's the fault of arabs( foreign contry's ) and that nothing can replace gasoline but they must study at high costs hydrogen and that it don't work and that we must burn foods to make ethanol. These peoples are killing the planet and they stop democracy in 2001.


I was waiting an announcement for 100 billions of recoverable oil as I read elswhere, that is rather deceptive, that is 3 months of US consumption..

Monkey Man

After reading what A.B. said (2 posts above this one) I realize something.

..... A.B. is a Liberal Retard.



Strip mines? This is a "continuous" liquid oil reserve bout 10,000 feet below the surface. That'd be quite some strip mine! The issue here is that horizontal wells are needed to bring the oil to the surface. Recovery rates are low due to low porosity. Considering about 25 times more is recoverable with current technology than in 1995, that number will keep changing.

As for oil being an "addiction". We're addicted to oil like we're addicted to water. While we should work to change this, it's a necessary resource to keep our civilization running. And until we do find a substitute, we'll need to find more. Unless you feel like starving for lack of diesel to bring in our crops.

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