Canada’s Bakken Rock Stars

By The Bakken magazine staff | May 23, 2013

Melinda Yurkowski and her team at the Saskatchewan Geological Survey’s Ministry of the Economy are all just a bunch of rock stars. Not only did the team spearhead this year’s agenda for the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, putting together a comprehensive look at the geology of the Williston Basin and what developers of all sorts need to know, the team has one of the most complete core collections in the Canadian portion of the Bakken play. “If there is a core of a well, we can say with 99 percent certainty that we have it and we can show it to you,” Erik Nickel, petroleum research geologist says. Although the team is tasked with covering every geological formation in the entire province, according to Yurkowski, a task that also includes work on the oil sands, helium deposits and tracking one of the world’s largest deposits of potash, Yurkowski says the team has proven itself as the provincial experts in geology.

“We’ve been working on the Bakken for a number of years,” says Dan Kohlruss. “We are trying to promote the development of it and trying to look for areas outside of it that we can point people too or tell people about.” Doing so means explaining the challenges or pitfalls of a certain area, Kohlruss says, and what the differences are between the U.S. Bakken and the Canadian Bakken. Like the U.S. play, the Canadian play gained interest around 2006, and although the Canadian play offers a huge resource that continues to produce at high volumes, the play is smaller than the U.S. version.

Holding the title of expert means the team tracks development on both sides of the border, however. “We try and find a balance between being proactive and reactive,” Nickel says. In some cases, the team works to churn out research on a hot formation so those affected can understand how to steward the resource in the best possible way. In other cases, the team tries to take a proactive approach to oil and gas development by looking at areas where industry isn’t, Nickel adds.

Early in the Bakken’s Canadian activity, the team was taking a proactive approach, Kohlruss says. Certain geologists were on the cutting edge of helping to promote Bakken drilling and exploration. “You could see the writing on the wall,” he says.

“As the drilling and the wells on production came up, there were a lot of calls asking what was going on,” Nickel says. “We were able to provide a lot of geologic research to help with that.” The team is currently mapping water usage in the Canadian portion of the play while also looking at decline graphs. “That is pointing to some interesting things on how to best manage a Bakken well,” he says, including a movement into secondary recovery using water flooding.

The team’s ability to monitor both proven and emerging resource formations also helps other organizations in the province. Yurkowski and others have been able to work with and indicate to other research-based or privately run institutions which technologies or approaches to resource development are already, or will be, in high demand.    

Providing a light to the darkness, as Nickel says, is only one part of holding the expert title. The team also must decipher if a play, the Bakken included, needs any additional information. “We need to guide companies on how to work on the Bakken the best, but we also need to look at areas that are a little quieter and point them in those directions so we are encouraging more than just the hot play,” Kohlruss says. For now, maintaining their rock star status means focusing a majority of their efforts on the Bakken, because according to Nickel, “The play is by no means completely mature now or finished.”