Anyone investing in oil and gas in the U.S. is well aware of the huge boom in production in the Bakken formation of North Dakota, having broken past 700,000 barrels of oil per day late last year. But a new assessment from the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that the resources in the region could be even more plentiful than anyone had previously expected.
Though North Dakota has been at least a minor oil producer for decades, the USGS had not bothered to assess the continuous resources, or unconventional oil, in the region until 2008. When it did, the agency estimated that the Bakken alone could hold more than 3.65 billion barrels of oil, on top of 1.85 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
But the Bakken is not the only formation within the state's Williston Basin.
Wrapping around the Bakken is another formation known as the Three Forks formation, which stretches further south into South Dakota and west into Montana.
Previously thought to be relatively unproductive, a new assessment from the USGS says that better data from recent oil and gas exploration efforts now suggests the region could actually hold even greater total oil resources than the Bakken, potentially as much as 3.73 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil.
Combined the two formations could hold as much as 7.38 billion barrels of oil and 6.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. And these numbers only represent the mean estimates for the region's resources. Lower end figures suggest a 95 percent chance of at least 3.43 billion barrels, but on the high end the country's northern Great Plains could hold as much as 11.25 billion barrels of oil, equivalent to more than half of the country's current proven reserves.
"These world-class formations contain even more energy resource potential than previously understood, which is important information as we continue to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign sources of oil," newly appointed Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement. "We must develop our domestic energy resources armed with the best available science, and this unbiased, objective information will help private, nonprofit and government decision makers at all levels make informed decisions about the responsible development of these resources."
Companies have already been heavily investing in oil exploration in the Bakken, but some firms had started to pull rigs toward other emerging fields like the Permian basin in Texas. The new assessment could help keep resources flowing to North Dakota for the foreseeable future.