Continental Resources, an oil production company with 22 drilling rigs in North Dakota, has led the industry in developing the Sanish/Three Forks formation and concluded it is a separate oil formation, rather than one that siphons off the Bakken. Company owner Harold Hamm said he believes the Bakken and Sanish/Three Forks formations taken together could contain 24 billion barrels of oil. Continental spokesman Brian Engel said his company has its own models for estimating oil reserves.
Proven oil reserves in the United States are 21 billion barrels. If the Bakken and Sanish/Three Forks oil were reclassified as proven oil that would double the US proven reserves.
The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates the total volume of undiscovered, technically recoverable prospective resources in all areas of the United States, including the Federal Outer Continental Shelf, the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska, and the Bakken Formation, total 134 billion barrels of crude oil. This excludes oil shale reserves, as there is no significant commercial production of oil from oil shale in the United States.
The estimate is based on current oil recovery technology. There is over 169 billion barrels of oil in place in North Dakota, so improved oil recovery technology should increase the amount of recoverable oil.
Days before he officially retires from the Senate, Dorgan asked the U.S. Geological Survey to re-evaluate an earlier study of the Bakken formation to determine whether other formations have similar potential.
The USGS’s original study of the Bakken found 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil, considered the largest contiguous oil reserve ever discovered in the lower 48 states.
Now, Dorgan said the survey should determine whether the Sanish/Three Forks is a separate and distinct formation. Dorgan said in its original Bakken assessment, the USGS decided the Sanish/Three Forks was not a separate oil field.