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Pagel Weikum - Attorney at Law

Bakken Shale History and Overview

Oil is booming in North Dakota due in large part to new drilling technologies that have made the development of the Bakken field a reality. This is great for the Economy of North Dakota but, as with most great developments, it comes with a cost. These costs can be seen in increased truck traffic and threats to agriculture and the environment. Many of these costs can be reduced or eliminated if companies profiting from the Bakken Shale use safe drilling techniques and follow other well-established safety rules related to transportation and the environment. Following safe practices will enable North Dakota to reap the benefits of the Bakken while minimizing damage to the land and the people of North Dakota.

The Bakken Shale formation in Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota owes its name to North Dakota farmer Henry Bakken on whose land the first Bakken well was drilled.

The initial discovery of the Bakken Shale was in the Antelope Field in 1953. The Woodrow Starr #1 drilled by Stanolind Oil discovered oil on a stem test. The well was completed for 536 barrels of oil and essentially no water. No further development of the Bakken occurred until 1956 when Northern Pump Co. drilled and completed the #1 Ella Many Ribs for 320 barrels of oil per day (BOPD). A few wells were drilled throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

While the rock formation of the Bakken was known to contain oil, the tight, impermeable reservoir or formation of the Bakken required the producer to drill into natural fractures in order to produce oil. The drilling technology was not present to produce from this formation, and development of the field was slow.

In 1961 seismic technology was used by Shell Oil to discover the Elkhorn Field along the depositional limit of what has become known as the “Bakken Fairway.” The first Shell Oil well was completed in a remote region that was often shut-in during the region’s inclement weather. The Shell Oil well produced an average of 50 BOPD until 1964 when its casing collapsed and it was plugged and abandoned.

There was continued but gradual growth and development of the Bakken from 1976 through vertical production which confirmed the presence of hydrocarbons.

In 1987 Meridian Oil Inc. drilled and completed the first horizontal well in the Bakken. Meridian made a successful gas well that remained stable until additional wells were drilled nearby. Significant gas was produced from the well and it’s success led to the notable play in the upper Bakken Shale that lasted until the early 1990s.

The horizontal play that has led to the drilling boom of today started in North Dakota in 2004. Current estimates are that the Bakken is the largest oil development in the U. S. in the last 40 years. Conservative estimates are the the Bakken contains between 10-400 billion barrels of oil of which at least between 3-10% can be recovered. Continental Resources, a major operator in the area, maintains the figures are conservative and has expressed the belief publicly that between 24-40 billion barrels of oil will be recovered from the Bakken. Continental Resources is one of the largest operators in North Dakota.