The Bakken formation, which was earlier considered as a submarginal resource because its resources were locked in the rock formation, is now the second largest oil producing site in the United States, with Texas being the first. Thanks to advances in drilling and recovery technology.
The Bakken contains one of the largest deposit of oil and natural gas in the U.S., accounting for over 10% of the total oil produced in the United States as of 2013.
In 1953, J.W. Nordquist named the play after the owner of the farm land where it was first discovered – Henry Bakken.
Experts revealed that the Bakken spans across 200,000 square miles, stretching from North Dakota to some part of Canada – Saskatchewan and Manitoba – and northeastern Montana.
Although oil was first discovered at the site in 1951, it was not until 2000 that attention was drawn to the Bakken after the discovery of the Elm Coulee Oil Field, Montana, and Richland County. This was due to technical difficulties associated with drilling oil embedded in a rock.
As at 2007, Elm Coulee boasts of producing over 53,000 barrels of oil per day.
A few years after the discovery of Elm Coulee, EOG Resources discovered an oil-rich layer of shale near Parshall in North Dakota. Continuous exploration of the site at North Dakota skyrocketed the Bakken wells from 300 in 2006 to 457 in 2007.
Brigham Oil & Gas erased all sorts of uncertainties about the viability of the North Dakota Bakken when it recorded massive success using larger hydraulic fracturing treatments.
In June 2010, the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources reported that daily production of oil per well has hit a plateau at 145 barrels. Despite the creation of more wells, daily production per well remained at the plateau from June 2010 to December 2012.
With more wells being brought online, the amount of oil produced picked up the pace again and reached a new peak of 1.15 million barrels per day in the mid-2015.
Later that year, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reported a 60% drop in the number of rigs present at the Bakken due to the collapsing price of oil at the time.
The decline in oil extraction lingered through mid-2016 and settled at a pace until mid-2017.
Till date, experts are yet to calculate the exact amount of recoverable oil within the Bakken. A United State Geological Survey (USGS) report, in 2008, estimated the size of technically recoverable oil within the Bakken to be between 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels, with a mean of 3.5 billion. The same year, the state of North Dakota released a report stating that the amount of recoverable oil in the Bakken is 2.1 billion barrels.
The figure was later placed at 7.4 billion barrels in 2013 by the USGS.
In 1999, Leigh Price, a USGS geochemist, estimated the size of oil contained in the Bakken to be from 271 to 503 billion barrels, with a mean of 413 billion barrels. And only 50% of that amount is recoverable technically.
A senior manager at Continental Resources Inc. in 2011 estimated the size to be up too 24 billion barrels with the technology available as at the time.
A recent report showed that up to 18 billion barrels of oil can be recovered from the Bakken formation.
Companies with Active Drilling Rigs
Most companies have slammed the break on development projects at the Bakken due to the recent downturn in the oil industry. The 68 active drilling rigs at the Bakken are controlled by the following companies;
• Petro Harvester Operating
• Burlington Res O&G CO
• WPX Energy Williston LLC
• Enerplus Res USA Corp
• XTO Energy Inc.
• Hunt Oil Company
• Marathon Oil CO
• Continental Resources
• Petro Hunt LLC
• Lime Rock Resources
• Rimrock Oil & Gas
• Hess Bakken Investment
• Oasis Petrono Amer
• EOG Resources Inc
• Slawson Exploration
• PetroShale (US) Inc.
• NewField Prod Co
• Zavanna LLC
• True Oil LLC
• Whiting Oil and Gas Corp
• Sinclair Oil & Gas Co
• Liberty Res MNGMT Co
• Crescent PT Energy US
• Nine Point
Top Players at the Bakken
Although the Bakken play is occupied by lots of companies drilling different rigs at different locations, only five of these companies can be considered as the ‘big players in the block.’
Continental Resources is undoubtedly the top player at the Bakken. This is reflected in their daily production (an average of 139,602 BOE/D) and acreage position (1,030,000 net acres). Continental Resources was the first company to drill a horizontal well into neighboring Three Forks. It was also the first company to successfully construct a horizontally drilled well in the Bakken. The company operates 11 of the 68 rigs currently active in the Bakken.
Whiting Petroleum gained a seat at the table of the big players in 2014, after the acquisition of Kodiak Oil & Gas (which was a fierce competitor at the time). The company now owns 5 of the 68 active rigs, producing an average of 124,900 BOE/D. Whiting Petroleum currently occupies about 445,921 net acres of the Bakken.
As an occupant of major areas in the play, Hess is unarguably one of the top players at the Bakken. Although poor management has driven it to position 3, the company is optimistic that they will be able to recover a total of 1.6 billions barrels of oil from the Bakken in the near future. Currently, Hess holds 6 of the 68 active rigs in the Bakken and occupies 578,000 net acres. Its daily production of oil was capped at 105,000 BOE/D as at August 2016.
ExxonMobil can be described as the quiet kid in the block but it has acquired enough resources to shot it to the top of the food chain. The company secured a seat at the table of Bakken’s top players when it acquired XTO Energy in 20019. ExxonMobil also made a big move in 2012 with another acquisition. The company currently occupies 515,014 net acres of the Bakken and produces an average of 77,000 BOE/D from its 6 active rigs.
EOG Resources is just as affected by the current downturn in the oil market as other companies. Although recent turn of events has forced the company to slam the break on most projects, it has amassed a vast acreage in the Bakken that earned him a seat at the table of the big players. The company currently occupies 231,000 net acres of the Bakken but controls just one of the 68 active rigs.