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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.




That is an odd argument to make. If you have been reading this site you know that in the short run, behavior can make a difference. Keep the SUV in the garage, carpool and telecommute. In the medium time frame CNG, ANG and biofuels. In the longer term EV, HEV and PHEV to eventually replace some of the cars on the road.

Truckers are complaining about $4+ diesel fuel, airlines are going broke with a 50% increase in fuel prices over the last 3 months and drivers are looking at $4 gasoline. These are real problems that are not going to solve themselves. They take real solutions on a systematic basis to make a difference. Claiming people want to put sails on their cars is not constructive.


the people provide oversight to the governments, not markets. Informed people. A fifth estate not bound by conglomerates and corporations and free to inform an educated populace. The market doesn't stop against governement corruption. If it could make a profit doing so it would. Only a very loose interpretation of Milton Friedman could be viewed of free markets.


Reading here I see many excellent postings, but also points that raise questions.
May I ask, not to attack anyone, but...
Why the emphasis on corn alchohol rather than cellulosic from switchgrass?
Why do so many believe the US govt is less intelligent/knowledgeable than we the average are?
Is it not possible that those in charge are purposely depleting the reserves of other less-favored nations before seriously beginning on our own? That the middle-eastern war(s) began long before Iraq, before Patriot missles took down Soviet aircraft in Afghanistan, in fact before WW2, costing trillions of dollars that on a global basis is akin to printing monopoly money to buy your neighbors' fuel oil with before using your own?
When conversing about electric cars and generation, shouldn't one should first consider means of storage?
Couldn't the price of gasoline/fossil fuels be maintained at or even above current prices, as it should have after the 70's "shortage", by taxation that is granted to university programs to develop this technological quantum leap similar to each era's precursor?
Must we go way back to the stone age to find a parallel, isn't the last whaling ship still moored in Connecticut, coal-fired locomotive still on display at the local museum?
Can you imagine the fusion reactor designed by MIT and still waiting for funding to be prototyped, placed in service in ten years or maybe less, not leaving contaminated rods but running clean and 100 times as powerful as the current plants? Can you imagine now one of these in each American region, heating and cooling our homes, fueling our cars with this new "black box" battery that lets you travel 5-6 hundred miles at zippy speeds and pollution-free, quiet as the "black-box' powered lawn mower you used this morning (and didn't even wake the neighbors!)? Can you imagine the plant you work at, that makes XYZ's, burning electricity at $0.01 per KWH, now competitive with China?
I can imagine these things, and believe they are our destiny. I believe we will live to see the day and a cleaner more powerful and less angry planet, that insterad of the "end of time", we are just on the verge of another era, and like each previous era change, it will bring with it many improvements, and we will see that although forced to change, it will come to be agreed that it was the best thing that could happen. Haven't we all had a job, relationship, or other major life event that we later felt just this way about?
Keep up the debates, though, many great ideas come from just this sort of brainstorming. Best Wishes- Ray


I believe by now we should all understand that oil is not necessary. Electric cars is the best way to go to keep good old mother earth green. Cars that run on Electric, but convert to gas for long trips would be the way to go. Most trips for the average citizen is 30 to 40 miles, and electric cars can handle that just fine. The other way to go is wind for electric. That way when we plug in our cars, the electric company cant go nuts on rates. Lets get with the program. Gas is on its way out, and the world needs to clean up its act.

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