Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library ready for Bakken 2.0

The Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library that played a direct role in helping North Dakota become the No. 2 oil producing state in the nation has undergone a major renovation and expansion that will keep it relevant for the oil and gas industry.
By Patrick C. Miller | December 20, 2016

The Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library that played a direct role in helping North Dakota become the No. 2 oil producing state in the nation has undergone a major renovation and expansion that will keep it relevant for the oil and gas industry.

“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.

Government officials, oil and gas industry representatives and students and faculty from the University of North Dakota were in Grand Forks Sept. 27 to dedicate the expansion of the Core and Sample Library.

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.

In outlining Laird’s vision and his impact on UND and the oil and gas industry, Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota attorney general, noted that some states don’t have core libraries or extensive core sample collections.

“All that history tells a valuable lesson to all of us about the importance of foresight and a vision for the future,” he said.

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.

Spencer Wheeling, a UND doctoral 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 entirely to student research.

“My dissertation project is related directly to a lot of these cores,” Wheeling said. “I have to look over 250 or so cores just to focus on the project that I’m doing. That’s probably one of the greatest improvements from a student aspect. The labs used to be scattered around campus, but now they’re consolidated right here. The microscope and computer labs are just right down the hall.”

Mark Sonnenfeld, vice president of geoscience for Whiting Petroleum, 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.

Jack Stark, president and COO of Continental Resources, said the research resource provided by the core library and lab aided in developing a template for tight-oil exploration and production 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.”

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.”