A researcher looking into whether there’s more oil in North Dakota than is currently known didn’t give a hint during a standing room only session Wednesday at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference.
In an industry that thrives on chatter, everybody was eager to hear the latest numbers. If the U.S. Geological Survey said it’s too soon to say, a production official with Continental Resources had no such compunction.
Jack Stark, vice president of production for Continental, said his company now estimates there are between
27 billion and 45 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the Bakken and associated formations. That’s substantially more than it estimated two years ago and more than six times the amount the Geological Survey estimates.
Stark said the company upped its estimate when it discovered that three more layers below the Bakken and Three Forks also are productive.
He said the company has drilled nearly 700 wells into the formation in six years.
Stark said his company believes there are more than 900 billion barrels of oil in place, but only between 3 percent and 5 percent is actually recoverable with today’s technology.
Continental’s numbers are much more aggressive than the research compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, which might have had top billing in the session lineup, but didn’t provide the most sought-after information.
In 2008, the Geological Survey estimated there are 4 billion barrels of oil in the Bakken. Stephanie Gaswirth, a lead researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey, said it will be another 18 months before a new assessment of Three Forks and a reassessment of the Bakken formation is complete.
Gaswirth said the Three Forks was not assessed in 2008, though it’s clearly a production zone, and new data will provide a better understanding of the Bakken.
The new assessment started in October and involves looking at core samples, production data and geological information, she said.
She said what’s known about the Three Forks so far is that it’s an unconventional zone, like the Bakken: Oil there is harder to extract and carries the same potential for holding a lot of oil.
“It’s possible it could be the same as the Bakken, lower or higher,” she said.
State Geologist Ed Murphy said Continental’s new estimate wasn’t a shock.
He said his agency started learning a year ago that the Bakken formation is sending oil “all down through the system.”
“I would certainly expect that number (Geological Survey’s 4 billion barrels) to go up, but beyond that, we just don’t know. We will be very interested when it comes out,” Murphy said.
Stark said the company had almost a “eureka” moment when it looked at core samples of dolomite layers below the Bakken and Three Forks and realized the oil was deeper than expected.
“It’s amazing how widespread the saturation is,” he said.
He said Continental Resources plans to drill into all the zones and continue to gather data.
“We’re in the very early stages regarding the Three Forks, about where we were with the Bakken in 2008. We’re a long way from understanding it completely,” he said.
Gaswirth said the Three Forks extends miles farther geographically than does the Bakken.
She said one question she hopes to be able to answer is how far the Three Forks produces beyond the boundary of the Bakken. To learn that, oil companies will have to tell her.
“We don’t drill,” Gaswirth said.