Using Big Numbers to Answer Bakken Questions

By Luke Geiver | July 31, 2013

The Bakken oil and gas retrieval effort is bigger than any individual E&P firm trying to extract crude, rail company trying to move tubular goods or food truck attempting to sell out. And, after picking the brain of one of the play’s leading researchers, I feel safe in saying the Bakken may actually be larger than any of us have ever imagined.

For this month’s feature on exploration and production, I had the opportunity to sit down with the Energy & Environmental Research Center’s John Harju and learn about a new research effort his team is tackling. The work will combine $115 million in state funding with the well data and geological logs from some of the play’s largest producers. The goal of the work is to create a three-dimensional model of the Three Forks Formation’s four benches and the Middle Bakken bench. The work will also address ways to increase operational efficiency while reducing flaring and water use. According to Harju, the work is justified and will help reveal something everyone should know: the recoverable oil in the play could be 40 billion barrels, not the 7 billion barrels previously estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey.

While most of us may not be geology experts or have Harju’s or his team’s depth of knowledge, we know big numbers when we see them. The work will provide a visual to the state on how to best manage and develop the resource while demonstrating this play is a multiple-decade situation for oil production and economic vitality. Or as Harju says, the work proves that big oil fields just get bigger.

Strata Corp., a North Dakota-based concrete, aggregate and materials supplier, may not know about the geological discrepancies of the Williston Basin, but it does understand the basics of economic vitality. The company has been around for 103 years. To establish itself as a long-term provider of quality services and materials suitable for well pads and roads in western N.D., the company has deployed its employee-centric business model with great success. The key to the company’s success can be found in this month’s second feature. After reading the piece, if Strata’s approach to employee satisfaction and investment strategy doesn’t seem to resonate as a blueprint for long-term Bakken success, ask this question: How many companies in the Bakken have been around for a century? Better yet, how many companies anywhere have been around for a century? And, because the answer to that is fairly easy, here is one last question. Based on the research implications of Harju and his team’s work, how many multi-decade companies will the Bakken create?


Luke Geiver
The Bakken magazine