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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.


It is interesting to note that whether it is tar sands or shale oil, the discussion comes down to economics. Now that oil is over $100 per barrel, it becomes "economical" to extract it.

I would rather look at it as a resource usage analysis. Is this the best way to use the resources to achieve the desired goal, or is it another way to make corporations money?

If $10 billion per year is put into tar sands and shale oil and nothing into better ways of providing transportation, is this the best use of resources?

Some will say that this is the corporations money and it is. But in some ways the resource allocations affect all of us in our daily lives and maybe we have a say in that too.

Harvey D


Had we spent more resources in the development of (1Kwh/Kg) ESSUs, farmers would be using electrified tractors (with a 500 Kg to 1000 Kg quick charge ESSU as useful added weight) + small efficient biodiesel range extender genset. Most farms could produce their own biofuel from local agricultural waste or specialized biofuel feed stocks. The farm windmill (and/or PV panels) could produce the electrical energy required for the electrified machinery, the farmer's residence, barn, sheds, warehouses, etc. Biderectional connection to the local power grid would allow power sharing and added reliability.

This is not a dream but a post (oil) fossil fuel farm. It has already stared in Germany and will gain more acceptance in the next ten years or so.


Just a little side note,
Let's say that Iraq does somehow get straightened out and they manage to get their oil industry up and running. There is no reason why they could not produce 8+ million barrels per day. What would that do to these projects.
I am all in favor of this project for now to keep the ball moving but we need to move off oil and also keep some of that American money here. The gov may have to do something to make sure these project economically feasible for a certain amount of time or just make a hard line stance on renewable and screw these projects.
Also, a hard line stance on renewable may require some medaling with finances to make sure OPEC doesn't flood the market with crude if IRAQ does get going.



I'm not saying that there aren't ways we could change our "addiction". It's necessary. But until the economics work out (like having $4+ diesel) you won't get much R&D into alternatives. And we still have to find and drill oil until said alternatives can have enough impact to become mainstream.

Of course, I don't even have to discuss what R&D is actually going on in the field. That's why we're GCC readers, after all.


To all the forum twits with their allusions to addiction and needles and alcoholism, this find represents nothing of the sort.

It provides us with an additional domestic source of petroleum while alternative fuels (not corn-based ethanol!) and other sources of energy are further developed and deployed, namely nuclear, solar, wind, wave and all the many and varied processes for creating transport fuels. There will probably be other finds over the next few years that will provide additional breathing room.

Meanwhile, the world IS confronting the scepter of dwindling FFs. Even a cursory look at the research and development daily reported on this website provides ample proof that the we and the rest of the world are not walking in lockstep towards some precipice.


It would be nice if the U.S. actually had a plan, instead of a state of the union address that just has the one liner "addicted to oil". I do not see a coherent plan that takes all relevant major factors into consideration and coordinates all their interactions for a better outcome.


Sic, why do you want the government to direct resources or create plans for attacking the problem of energy?

Part of the reason rail transport was neglected for so long in this country was because of the government's overfunding of highway and airport development at the expense of the railroads.

Scientific and industrial solutions to the problem of energy would represent a more Darwinian approach and solution. I'm afraid government funding could distort that effort.


if we're going to use oil, it might as well come from america.

Rafael Seidl

@ sjc -

historically, the problem with the oil industry has been that every time prices are high, new production capacity has been brought online and prices fall sharply. It's the original boom-and-bust industry. This is why oil companies have been extremely conservative this time around, preferring to let prices stay high to risking a glut. Of course, for them the fun stops as soon as consumer nations get serious about conservation and alternative fuels.

Most of Exxon's fields would be profitable even at an oil price of $20-30, a level we're not likely to see again unless the US or Chinese economies go into a deep recession.

@ Paul -

oil companies' experience in the Middle East is that the locals tend to raise taxes (e.g. Venezuela) or nationalize (e.g. Saudi Arabia) at the drop of a hat. Pres. Bush wants to large numbers of troops in Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the cost to the taxpayer, because he wants his buddies in Big Oil to rake in profits from future operations in Iraq. The neo-cons should really have been called neo-colonialists.

Remember what Sheik Yamani (former Saudi oil minister) said: "The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil." The Bakken formation is domestic and valuable for that reason alone, but there's not enough oil there to make the US independent of OPEC. All it buys the country is more time.

At some point, the US will have to reduce its consumption of fossil oil by painful choice - even as domestic proven reserves are rising. Protecting the status quo via massive military action is unsustainable and, many argue the risk of rapid climate change is another reason to make this choice asap.

For reference, Norway has considered its oil as a windfall resource. It has been exploited as quickly as possible without reducing ultimate yield, but the country chose to invest the proceeds into a fund that will pay for public services long after the bonanza is over. Meanwhile, fuel taxes there are high and alternatives like EVs are being developed there.


I do not see a coherent plan that takes all relevant major factors into consideration and coordinates all their interactions for a better outcome.

Dude...central planning doesn't work. Really.

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