North Dakota’s world-class core library receives major upgrade

By Patrick C. Miller | September 28, 2016

Government officials, oil and gas industry representatives and students and faculty from the University of North Dakota (UND) gathered in Grand Forks on Monday to dedicate the expansion of the Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library.

Mark Sonnenfeld, vice president of geoscience for Whiting Petroleum, and Jack Stark, president and COO of Continental Resources, were present and recognized for their companies’ contributions to the facility over the years. Each noted the role the core samples and lab played in major discoveries that led to North Dakota becoming the No. 2 oil producing state in the nation.

Because of the research resource provided by the core library and lab, Stark said a template for tight-oil exploration and production was established in North Dakota, which also resulted in a new class of reservoir.

“Literally, this reservoir has made the U.S. as a swing producer of oil, dissolved OPEC as we knew it and created an energy renaissance that’s put the U.S. on a path to energy independence,” he noted. “When you get down to it, this lab is at the center of that world-changing event.”

“This lab is about the future,” said Kathy Neset, president of Neset Consulting Service in Tioga and chair of the State Board of Higher Education. “When I look at the companies working here, public and private together—to make a building, to make a facility—engineers and geology students, this is for you. This is for our future.”

Spencer Wheeling, a UND Ph.D. student in geology, explained how the expanded facility benefits his research on mapping the Red River formation. Previously, there was only one small lab in which to study the cores and samples. That meant students had to pack up their work and leave when others needed the lab.  Now there are three large labs, one devoted to student research.

“It really bogged down the research,” he said. “Now we have our own space where no one can come in and take it from us. That’s probably one of the greatest improvements from a student aspect. The labs used to be scattered around, but now they’re consolidated right here. The microscope and computer labs are just right down the hall.”

Neset herself recalled arriving in North Dakota as a young geologist from New Jersey and spending time in the core library’s lab during the 1980s studying the rocks through her microscope.

“I started using this when I was pretty young out of college,” she said. “This facility is unrivaled around the country and around the world, mostly because of the diligence about getting such extensive samples from every well. That’s something pretty special.”

Built on the UND campus in 1980 and named after Laird, the man who served as North Dakota’s state geologist from 1941 to 1969 and chaired UND’s geology department for 28 years, the 18,000-square-foot warehouse provided storage space for samples and cores collected from nearly every well ever drilled in the state—dating back to before oil was discovered in 1951. The facility included office space and a lab where industry geologists and UND faculty and students could study the rock.

Eleven years ago, discussions to expand the facility began when it became apparent that increasing oil and gas activity would eventually outpace its storage capacity. In 2013, Gov. Jack Dalrymple and the North Dakota Legislature authorized a $13.6 million expenditure from the state Strategic Investments and Improvements Fund to add another 28,000 square feet of storage space, as well as improvements to labs and offices.

Noting that the fund was created for long-term infrastructure improvements and funded from state oil and gas royalties and tax revenue, Dalrymple said, “This was a perfect source of funds. What a great investment for the people of North Dakota.”

Sonnenfeld commended core library director Julie LeFever—author of research articles that led to industry interest in the Bakken formation—and her staff for their knowledge and service-oriented approach.

“Having viewed core at repositories throughout the country—both public and private—we experience a higher degree of professionalism here than anywhere else, including a willingness to adapt core layout plans on the fly,” he said.

Stark noted that Continental was once a small Oklahoma company with no presence in North Dakota, but after visits to the Wilson M. Laird Core Sample and Library to study the rock of the Bakken, that changed dramatically.  

“Now two-thirds of our production and our reserves are in North Dakota, and it all started right here,” he said. “That’s quite a testament to the value that this has brought to Continental and North Dakota as well.”

Attending the event with Dalrymple were the other two members of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. Lynn Helms, director of the state's Division of Mineral Resources, emceed the event. Also honored during the ceremony were Laird’s four children, Don, Doug, Dave and Dorothy.

“This core library for the purpose of academia, industry and regulatory is something you should be very proud of here in North Dakota,” said Don Laird. “The facility will assist North Dakota in being even more successful in the future.”


For more on the Bakken, follow us on Twitter @TheBakkenMag