Feds see twofold jump in Bakken, Three Forks oil, gas resources

June 2013, Vol. 240, No. 6

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has 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, showing the formations contain an estimated mean of 7.4 Bbbl of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil.

The updated assessment for the Bakken and Three Forks represents a twofold increase over what has previously been thought.

The USGS data showed the Bakken Formation has an estimated mean oil resource of 3.65 Bbbl and the Three Forks Formation has an estimated mean resource of 3.73 Bbbl with a range of 4.42 (95% chance) to 11.43 Bbbl (5 % chance). The assessment of the two formations represents a significant increase over the estimated mean resource of 3.65 Bbbl of undiscovered oil in the Bakken that was estimated in the 2008 assessment.

“These world-class formations contain even more energy resource potential than previously understood, which is important information as we continue to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign sources of oil,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “We must develop our domestic energy resources armed with the best available science, and this unbiased, objective information will help private, nonprofit and government decision makers at all levels make informed decisions about the responsible development of these resources.”

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.

In addition to oil, these two formations are estimated by the USGS assessment to contain a mean of 6.7 Tcf of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas and 0.53 Bbbl of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas liquids. Gas estimates range from 3.43 (95% chance) to 11.25 (5% chance) Tcf of gas and 0.23 (95% chance) to 0.95 (5% chance) Bbb; of natural gas liquids. This estimate represents a nearly threefold 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 Three Forks.

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.

Meanwhile, according to Benetek numbers, average daily crude oil production in the U.S. reached a 20-year high of more than 7 MMbopd during November and December 2012 with EIA data showing most of the increase coming from shale and other tight rock formations, where hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has sparked the increase.

BENTEK’s projections for the top five U.S. tight oil plays five years from now are: Permian at 1.73 MMbopd in April 2018 vs. 1.35 MMbopd currently; Eagle Ford, 1.58 MMbopd vs. 910,000 bopd currently; Bakken at 1.53 MMbopd in vs. 935,000 bopd currently; Niobrara 449,000 bopd vs. 189,000 bopd currently; and Anadarko 423 bopd vs. 330,000 bopd currently.

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