North Dakota can sustain 1.5 million to 2.0 million barrels of oil per day for many years depending upon how the Bakken oil reserve is chosen to be managed. Also, improvements in oil drilling and recovery technology could increase the amount of oil that is recovered and increase the peak level of oil production.
Areal extent and geologic stratification of the Bakken formation. Shaded areas are the Bakken formation. USGS map
The Bakken Formation lies within the Williston Basin, which is an ancient seabed, and extends over parts of North Dakota, Montana, and Saskatchewan, Canada, as shown above. A conservative estimate of the total oil-in-place in the Bakken Formation is 300 Bbbl, but it is locked in impermeable rock. Continental Resources places the quantity of recoverable oil in the U.S. Bakken at 24.3 Billion barrels. Horizontal drilling and hydro-fracturing makes commercial scale oil production possible. Horizontal wells are drilled into the Middle Bakken and the underlying Three Forks reservoirs, and hydro-fracturing creates pathways for the flow of oil from these reservoirs and possibly the Upper and Lower members of the Bakken Formation.
Based on an average well production profile for wells with a 500 Mbbl EUR, the number of wells to sustain 1.0, 1.5, and 2.0 million barrels per day of oil production rates for thirty years is 27,000 wells, 41,000 wells, and 55,000 wells respectively.
Well counts to sustain the three oil production scenarios for North Dakota Bakken. In parentheses is the year when the cumulative well count exceeds 38,890 wells.
The viability of the well development estimates are consistent with those developed by the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources (DMR). North Dakota DMR studies indicate that North Dakota has the potential to drill about 38,000 wells in the Bakken Formation with well infills and separate wells in the Middle Bakken and Three Forks strata. Also, the North Dakota DMR notes that long-term well production rates and EUR’s will be enhanced with future technological developments such as well refracs.
These findings indicate that the North Dakota portion of the Bakken Formation will prove to be the largest oil field in the United States. To date, Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay is the largest U.S. oil field and produced about 13 Bbbl in its first thirty years of production. Prudhoe Bay sustained a 1.5 MMbbl/d oil production rate for nine years from 1980 to 1988 before going into decline. The findings of this study indicate that the North Dakota Bakken may be able to sustain a 1.5 MMbbl/d oil production rate for about 25 years.