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Oil and Shale in The Bakken Formation


Oil and Shale in the Bakken Formation

The Bakken formation is an underground rock formation that stretches across North Dakota, Montana, and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. The formation spreads across 200,000 square miles and consists of shale, sandstone, and siltstone. The Bakken formation has quickly become a haven for oil and gas companies, as the vicinity is rich in oil. Estimates say there are billions of barrels of oil buried in the formation, prompting businesses to flock to the area. The discovery has fueled oil booms in Canada, North Dakota, and Montana and has caused North Dakota to become America’s second-largest oil-producing state. The Bakken formation has revitalized the oil industry, changed the economic status of the states where it is found, and proven to be an invaluable resource.

History of the Bakken Formation

Scientists believe the Bakken formation came about during the Late Devonian to Early Mississippian ages and contains approximately 503 billion barrels of oil. The United States Geological Survey continues to study methods for recovering the oil: Current estimates say that approximately 7 billion barrels of oil may be recovered from the formation, which was discovered in 1953 on property owned by North Dakota farmer Henry Bakken, for whom the formation is named. Though estimates say there are large amounts of oil in the area, scientists continue to work on the most effective methods for extracting and transporting the oil. Though initial efforts to extract the oil proved challenging, successful drilling has begun drawing the attention and activities of large oil and gas companies.

Oil and Drilling

It wasn’t until 2000 that oil drilling in the Bakken formation began to take shape. Newer technological advances helped to retrieve the oil, and successful drilling has taken place in recent years. Though oil drilling began in 1953, it wasn’t until the successful drilling of the Elm Coulee Oil Field, located on the Montana portion of the formation, that efforts proved profitable. By 2007, the Elm Coulee Oil Field was producing an estimated 53,022 barrels of oil per day. During the same time, drilling began at the Parshall Oil Field located in Parshall, North Dakota. By 2007, 457 oils wells had been drilled in North Dakota as the Bakken formation quickly drew attention for the wealth of oil it possessed.

Increased Drilling of the Bakken

By 2009, the company Brigham Oil & Gas used newer hydraulic fracturing methods and increased the amount of oil produced from the region. The advancements have caused the amount of oil produced in the region to grow, and more drilling and wells continue to operate in the area. What began as a small venture to see what was recoverable in the Bakken formation has now become a major source of oil from what may prove to be the largest oil formation discovered worldwide. Since the successful drilling operations of 2007, increased drilling has taken place utilizing newer technologies. Horizontal drilling techniques and the use of hydraulic fracturing, also known as hydrofracking or just fracking, have caused many companies to focus their attention on the formation. The successful recovery of oil has made North Dakota the second-largest oil producer in the United States, after Texas.

Effects of the Oil Boom

The oil boom has revitalized North Dakota’s economy by drawing businesses to the area and greatly reducing unemployment levels. A statewide tax break for oil drilling in 2007 helped contribute to the state’s success. The Bakken formation is expected to continue to produce oil on a long-term basis, and many believe it will greatly help reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. The oil boom has positively affected the economies of both Montana and North Dakota, which are seeing population growth as well as an influx of new businesses, both drilling-related and not.

What’s Next?

While future plans include continued drilling and recovery of oil, there is a need for new technological advances regarding infrastructure and transportation of the oil: In recent years, the safe transportation of Bakken oil to other parts of the country has become a concern due to its flammability. As newer technologies for drilling and transporting this oil are developed and undergo federal scrutiny, there is plenty of room for innovating companies to profit during the boom. Some estimates state that the formation will viably produce recoverable oil for the next 100 years.


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