In today's world, the word technology has taken on a completely new connotation. Ask the average person on the street what is technology and they will give an answer that involves some process of converting electrons and magnetic impulses or using the word "wirebrentless." While those are examples of technology, some of the most basic elements on earth, like rocks, still prove to be the early adapters of new technologies and then the driving force behind advancing that technology.
Humans have proven one thing over time and that is we are tool builders. We started with stone wheels and rock mallets, and that technology eventually created more advanced variations like rubber tires and titanium hammers.
"Look at cell phones or hunting, we went from brick phones and bows and arrows to smart phones and semi-automatic rifles," Brent Bogar, founder and CEO of Jade Consulting, Bismarck said. "The technology that is driving this industry is the same way. When you look at how it's gone from single-stage fracs to multistage fracs and the monitoring they can do, it is absolutely phenomenal what is being done right now in these shale plays."
Furthermore, the life cycle in creating rubber tires allow new technologies, ideas and even industries to emerge. However, the wheel itself and its basic core data is shared throughout the process. New technologies may emerge, and that continuous evolving core data soon becomes shared, too. This basic evolution of the rubber wheel and titanium hammer is happening in the Bakken and other shale plays across the planet.
"Sharing data has been occurring on some level for quite a while, but has increased over the last decade or so," Mark Sonnenfeld, Vice President of Geosciences, Whiting Petroleum said. "In the '40s and '50s scouts would spy on each other and trade secrets. Some industries are so specialized, like fracking, where there are a limited number of companies who can frac, so success can become infectious and advancements in technology can spread quickly."
Sonnenfeld continued saying, historical, in the big picture of oil and gas, North Dakota came late.
"Things are good in North Dakota because oil came late to the state, previous to that oil was imported in from Canada," Sonnenfeld said. "Montana has oil, but North Dakota is where most of the production is taking place."
Lynn Helms, director, North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, agrees with Sonnenfeld and the advantages in energy innovation.
"North Dakota has always been a high technology oil and gas business," Helms said. "We were late to the game. 1951 was our discovery well, and that wasn't able to happen until 2D Seismic technology was developed and allowed us to find where the oil was in the Nesson Anticline."
Since then, North Dakota has required operators to use "cutting-edge technology" due to extreme weather conditions, "deep and hot" rocks and the vast geography of the Bakken, according to Helms. The creation of these technologies are centered around a nucleus of core samples and data. And sharing this data is solidified deep within North Dakota's core.
The nucleus of the Bakken and all this innovation is a basic collection of rocks. Well, it's more than a basic collection of rocks, it's actually a library of core samples known as The Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library.
"North Dakota has a massive collection of core samples," Sonnenfeld said. "Not only is it a large resource for the state, but it is the largest core library in the continental United States."
In the early 1950s when the oil activity began, then-North Dakota State Geologist Wilson M. Laird, Ph.D., went to the legislature and lobbied to preserve the rocks of the producing zones and store them into a library. They bought Laird's concept, created a law based on the Model Act drafted by the Legal Committee of the Interstate Oil Compact Commission and the archives began.
This collection of rocks may be the most valuable rocks on the planet as they hold the secrets to the Bakken. Those secrets are being unlocked everyday as new technologies are created in response to the publicly-owned core samples of North Dakota.
Some states have adopted similar libraries, some have not. Looking across state lines at Montana where the Bakken crude also roams underfoot, less production is occurring. According to many in the industry, the historical shared data within the Wilson Laird library is one of the key reasons.
"In 2013, industry and academia examined 79,000 feet of core, an all-time record in the core library." Ed Burns, North Dakota State Geologist said. "More specifically, we had 28 companies and nine separate universities use the library."
In the past sharing data was not as common due to the large amounts of information, intellectually property rights and competition. North Dakota was the exception to that rule.
"It varies from state to state," Sonnenfeld said. "Some states do not have any library while others have incomplete data. North Dakota is really a model for the country."
The foresight by professor Wilson Laird and the legislature created one of the largest databases of core samples enabling industry to perform their due diligence in an orderly and efficient manner.
"There are cores from 4,140 wells currently stored in the library for a combined footage of 380,000 ft (72 miles)," Julie LeFever, Wilson Laird Core Library manager said. "We also store cuttings (crushed rock samples) for 20,360 wells of the 23,048 wells drilled. When the core and sample collection is combined with the data available on the website, it increases the efficiency of exploring for oil and gas on the North Dakota portion of the Williston Basin."
These core samples can tell oil companies and academia what every inch of earth is right down to the shale. And every spec of dirt and grain of sand tell a story about where to turn, what to use and how to frac the sweet crude.
Increasing efficiency often increases the tempo, and in today's wired world, that efficiency is performed with a fervor. Many of the companies working in the Bakken understand the double edged sword of shared data integrated with instant communications.
"In the past, public comments took time to reach people because there was no emails or websites," Sonnenfeld said. "Today you have public comments on websites immediately for everyone to see."
This valuable information can often lead to a myriad of paths depending on the level of information and the life cycle of the resource play.
"There are a number of distinct combinations of multiple play factors including source rock quality, maturity, reservoir quality, pressures, to name a few," Sonnenfeld said. "Too much sharing data can lead to squatters and other early issues, so sharing begins in the development phase. Right now there is a lot sharing in the Bakken because it is in development."
Through the years, the state has set up a number of procedures to ensure proper care of the rock samples as well as preserving the integrity of the resource.
"Cores are only allowed to be shipped to a commercial lab for testing, not directly to the companies." LeFever said. "Data acquired from the additional testing is required to be returned to the state and is made public after a short confidential period."
LeFever added this protocol eliminates the need for running the same tests on the same core preserving the collection for later needs.
Let's face it, we live in a world of innovation. Innovation that runs on petroleum and science. Most energy experts believe the modern day shale play is transforming the way the world views energy production and the Bakken is truly contributing in the creation of this new global consciousness. And in true North Dakota fashion, continuing to share the state's resources offers significant aid to those attempting to address the common obstacles in the Bakken.
"We will continue to be a high tech energy play because our geology and geography has always demanded that," Helms said.