BOOM TIMES: How much oil's under North Dakota?
How much oil there is under North Dakota is a matter of debate among geologists. Thirty years ago, everyone thought there was perhaps 10 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken Formation, according to Julie LeFever, who has been studying the state's...
How much oil there is under North Dakota is a matter of debate among geologists.
Thirty years ago, everyone thought there was perhaps 10 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken Formation, according to Julie LeFever, who has been studying the state's oil patch for 27 years with the North Dakota Geological Survey in Grand Forks.
More recently, one expert estimated it's more like 400 billion barrels, while others say 200 billion to 300 billion barrels, LeFever said.
The U.S. uses about 7 billion barrels of oil a year, so North Dakota's share represents a key part of the nation's supply of oil.
But all of it can't be pumped out, at least for now. Maybe 3 percent, maybe 10 percent, LeFever says. As technology and knowledge grows, and if the price of oil stays high, maybe half or more could be recovered.
Despite all the science, there's really no way to know for sure where the oil is, or how much, until holes are drilled, LeFever said.
And new ideas and techniques can change the equation.
Already, carbon dioxide is being piped from a coal power plant near Beulah, N.D., up to Weyburn, Sask., where it's pumped into oil wells to "push" the oil out of nooks and crannies in the shale to places where it can be pumped out.
Water also is used in such "secondary recovery" techniques in North Dakota wells to get more oil out of each well.
The Bakken Formation falls within the Williston Basin geological formation, which extends across western and central North Dakota, eastern Montana, southern Saskatchewan and a bit of northwestern South Dakota. It even reaches toward the Red River Valley, LeFever said. Wells are being drilled only 40 miles northwest of Jamestown, N.D., and more and more interest is being shown in the eastern side of the basin.
Even after 55 years of oil activity in the Basin, it wasn't until May 2006 that the newest pool was found near Parshall, N.D., the one fueling so much of this recent surge in the oil patch, LeFever said.
She takes a conservative approach to estimating the oil amounts, LeFever said. "But I think there's a lot of oil left to find."