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New USGS oil and gas assessment for Bakken and Three Forks formations boosts estimates of recoverable oil two-fold, natural gas three-fold

Map showing the Williston Basin Province, Bakken Total Petroleum System (TPS), and the Bakken Formation Assessment Units (AUs). Major structural features are also shown. Inset map shows location of the Bakken TPS (dark blue). Source: USGS. Click to enlarge.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) released an updated oil and gas resource assessment for the Bakken Formation and a new assessment for the Three Forks Formation in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana, resulting in a two-fold increase in the estimated technically recoverable oil, and a three-fold increase in estimated natural gas.

Technically recoverable resources are those producible using currently available technology and industry practices. USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources of the US onshore and state waters.

Oil. The USGS assessment found that the Bakken Formation has an estimated mean oil resource of 3.65 billion barrels of oil (BBO) and the Three Forks Formation has an estimated mean resource of 3.73 BBO, for a total of 7.38 BBO, with a range of 4.42 (95% chance) to 11.43 BBO (5% chance). This assessment of both formations represents a significant increase over the estimated mean resource of 3.65 billion barrels of undiscovered oil in the Bakken Formation that was estimated in the 2008 assessment.

Since the 2008 USGS assessment, more than 4,000 wells have been drilled in the Williston Basin, providing updated subsurface geologic data. Previously, very little data existed on the Three Forks Formation and it was generally thought to be unproductive. However, new drilling resulted in a new understanding of the reservoir and its resource potential.

The primary source of oil for the Bakken and Three Forks Formations are the Upper and Lower Bakken Shale Members of the Bakken Formation. USGS assessed the Bakken and Three Forks Formations for both continuous and conventional resources. Unlike conventional oil accumulations, continuous oil remains in or near the original source rock, and instead of occurring in discrete accumulations is dispersed heterogeneously over large geographic areas.

Natural gas. In addition to oil, these two formations are estimated to contain a mean of 6.7 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas and 0.53 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas liquids. Gas estimates range from 3.43 (95% chance) to 11.25 (5% chance) trillion cubic feet of gas and 0.23 (95% chance) to 0.95 (5% chance) billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

This estimate represents a nearly three-fold increase in mean natural gas and a nearly threefold increase in mean natural gas liquids resources from the 2008 assessment, due primarily to the inclusion of the Three Forks Formation.

The geological foundation that underpins the assessment was facilitated by data provided by the North Dakota Geological Survey, North Dakota Industrial Commission, Montana Board of Oil and Gas, and multiple industry groups working in this region. This new information and data allowed USGS to develop a more robust geologic model and understanding of the petroleum system of the Bakken and Three Forks Formations.


  • Gaswirth, S.B., Marra, K.R., Cook, T.A, Charpentier, R.R., Gautier, D.L., Higley, D.K., Klett, T.R., Lewan, M.D., Lillis, P.G., Schenk, C.J., Tennyson, M.E., and Whidden, K.J. (2013) Assessment of undiscovered oil resources in the Bakken and Three Forks Formations, Williston Basin Province, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota, 2013: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2013–3013, 4 p.,



Good news for USA's future Oil & Gas independence?


7 billions barrels will be fast gone, barely one year of US consumption...


Provide 10% of our oil for 10 years and then what? After they frack the heck out of everything, we are scraping the bottom of the barrel.


"..barely one year of US consumption" "...and then what?"

Good comments.

What about those remaining US long carbon chains being worth more in manufacturing or medicines than auto exhaust.


I'll second that, kelly.


I'll third that.  Atoms for electricity, electric propulsion for short range, liquid fuels only where CNG/LNG doesn't make sense.


No, we were scraping the bottom of the barrel 5 years ago.

At least according to the predictions 10 years ago.


Potential and real profits will determine what energy USA will use. Not the end users. There are 10,000,000+ more holes to dig and almost 1,000,000 sq. Km of tar sands to extract?

It looks like Shale Oil, cheap NG and cheap Coal will be the leaders for a long time, at least until the end users wake up and become willing to pay a bit more for cleaner energy.


The end user for much energy is already using electricity. If that can be produced cheaper (or with less financial risk) than by coal and natural gas, it will. The auto consumer will buy electric when BEVs are cheap, and they have seen that they work. The latter is happening faster than the former.


End users have to buy the energy offered. That is true for gas, diesel, Ethanol, NG and electricity.

Suppliers decide what will be offered and at what price (most of the time).


Suppliers of old energy have the advantage of having already absorbed their infrastructure costs. New energy suppliers have an uphill fight.

Bob Wallace

I think we need to be cautious about our predictions of how much natural gas we actually have and how much it will cost over time.

Here's an article on how quickly production is falling off in most gas fields. And the annual cost to keep flow going at current levels - much higher than gas prices support.

Unlike oil wells which can produce at a somewhat steady level for years, natural gas wells tend to put out a lot and then quickly drop off. In order to get more gas out of the field new wells have to be drilled or old wells re-fracked.

Kit P

'I think we need to be cautious about' wind turbine power production falling off.


The only way to make nuclear power production fall off is to regulate it out of existence or ban it outright.


the sky is blue over the bakken


Don't worry about NG becoming too expensive.

If and when it does, free enterprise (contrary to the delusions of those here wearing tinfoil hats) will morph over to another form of domestic (I hope) energy, and if transportation fuels get expensive enough they (driven by us) will switch to batteries/EVs, hydrogen, flywheels, windmills or whatever makes sense - driven by the same motive as all of us who work for a living.

Meanwhile the bureaucrats, driven by whatever motives you care to attribute, spend other peoples money (mine) on new, promising, exciting, developments like EVs; like the Prius, which will likely spawn similar and even better EVs, 3 to 5 years after it's introduction, if they just pay people to buy them.


Petroleum got too expensive back in 1979 (and arguably in 1973).

Here we are, 34 years later; kids born in '79 are halfway to retirement age.  Aside from getting rid of almost all oil-fired electric generation, how's that "free enterprise" working out for us?  Where's my hydrogen-powered car, and the non-petroleum hydrogen to put into it?  Just askin'.


New Jersey, one of the world place with the highest number of oil refineries per sq. Km, will soon impose a special tax of about $975+/year/BEV.

Nobody seems to know who is behind this move and what are the real objectives?

Will that be enough to delay the arrival of mass produced electrified vehicles in New Jersey?

How many other States will follow New Jersey's lead? Would not be surprised if Alberta ups registration fees for EVs to $1000+/year?


Engineer poet, there won't be petrol oil or hydrogen cars for very long and after nobody know if ever there will be cars ever. nobody is constructing or planning to construct any 'NEW' cars, that's sad. Each rely on the ancient past from nowhere.

Bob Wallace

"The only way to make nuclear power production fall off is to regulate it out of existence or ban it outright."

You forgot "drive it bankrupt".

A number of our current reactors are operating very close to the financial failure threshold.

Dominion Power is currently closing its Kewaunee, Wisconsin plant because it is no longer profitable. They are laying off staff, having scheduled at final shut down in a month or so.

Crystal River has announced that it will not come back on line. Repair costs would make the power too expensive to sell.

Oyster Creek will close in 2010 due to unaffordable repair costs. They need a cooling tower rebuild.

Talk is growing of San Onofre's two reactors not coming back on line. Cost is the issue.

There was a recent news piece about another reactor being close to bankruptcy but I failed to note the name. Post Fukushima required safety upgrades are likely too expensive to continue operation.

Cheap wind, cheap NG and getting cheap solar are making nuclear power production fall off.


Yes, high rehab, monitoring and maintenance cost will drive most nuclear plants to early closure.

Very high initial cost of new facilities cannot compete with low price coal and NG plants.

That being said, higher profit seeking power industries will concentrate on more coal fired and NG power plants and not many nuclear power plants will be built in the next two decades or so.

Dominion Power is currently closing its Kewaunee, Wisconsin plant because it is no longer profitable. They are laying off staff, having scheduled at final shut down in a month or so.

Final shutdown was TODAY.

Meanwhile, the price of natural gas is heading upward as demand (both domestic and export) materializes to take advantage.  In 2 years, Kewaunee would have been a cash cow.  Madness.


Engineer Poet,

You have the disadvantage of using logic and rational discussion versus these nitwit polemicists.

Your program for progress make sense, nucler, electricity for short distances and liquid fuels where necessary. But these people don't care. They want to dwell in the mythical land of their dreams and don't want reality to intrude.

I hand it to you to keep trying. I just get weary arguing with granite, that passes as brains.

Bob Wallace

(Oops, forgot it was already May. I entirely missed February one year. ;o)

"In 2 years, Kewaunee would have been a cash cow. Madness."

Two years for Kewaunee to become a cash cow.

Wonder why no one was willing to buy this sure money maker when Dominion put it on the market?

Warren Buffet, for example, is sitting on $60 billion and looking for some good investments. You'd think Dominion would just give it to him and avoid the shutdown costs they are facing. Maybe work a deal to get a portion of future earnings.

Why wouldn't Dominion just eat a couple year's loss themselves and then rake in the dough that you see coming. Two years of modest losses for a major corporation is nothing if it's going to lead to milking a cash cow.

Madness somewhere....

Bob Wallace

Wow! Most excellent investment opportunities.

It looks like the James A FitzPatrick plant in Oswego, New York and Vermont Yankee plant in Vernon, Vermont are going to be operating at a financial loss for the foreseeable future. Pilgrim nuclear reactor in Plymouth, Massachusetts may also be losing money.

Someone could probably pick these puppies up on the cheap and make a mint when they come in fresh and the milking starts.

And the nuclear industry is reassuring us that the future glows bright. Natural gas won't stay cheap forever (they forgot to say that wind and solar will).

"Making the financial case to build nuclear energy is a tough sell right now. After all, this is the era of cheap and abundant natural gas. But market conditions will assuredly evolve and necessitate fuel diversity, meaning that the investments made today in modern nuclear energy technologies will eventually bear fruit."

And Southern Company's federal loan guarantee is only 16x that of Solyndra's.

Crack open those piggy banks. Get your very own cash cow on the cheap....

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