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Survey Doubles Oil Reserves in Bakken, Three Forks Shale

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There’s twice the amount of black gold in them thar hills, or at least that’s the word from a recent survey of the Bakken and Three Forks shale formations.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released an updated oil and gas resource assessment on April 30 for the Bakken formation and a new assessment for the Three Forks formation in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana. The assessments found that the formations contain an estimated mean of 7.4 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil. The updated assessment for the Bakken and Three Forks represents a twofold increase over what has previously been thought.

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The USGS assessment found that the Bakken has an estimated mean oil resource of 3.65 billion barrels, and the Three Forks has an estimated mean resource of 3.73 billion barrels. This assessment of both formations represents a significant increase over the estimated mean resource of 3.65 billion barrels of undiscovered oil in the Bakken formation that was estimated in the 2008 assessment.

“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,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “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.”

A key component of President Barack Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy is the availability of sound science to guide informed decision-making regarding the safe and responsible development of America’s domestic energy resources.

“The USGS undertook this assessment of the Bakken and Three Forks formations as part of a nationwide project assessing U.S. petroleum basins using standardized methodology and protocol,” said acting director of the USGS Suzette Kimball. “Through this improved understanding of our energy resources, government, industry, and citizens are better able to understand our domestic energy mix and make wiser decisions for the future.”

Since the 2008 USGS assessment, more than 4,000 wells have been drilled in the Williston Basin, providing updated subsurface geologic data. Previously, very little data existed on the Three Forks formation and it was generally thought to be unproductive. However, new drilling resulted in a new understanding of the reservoir and its resource potential.

In addition to oil, these two formations are estimated to contain a mean of 6.7 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas and 0.53 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas liquids.

Technically recoverable oil resources are those producible using currently available technology and industry practices. USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources of the U.S. onshore and state waters.

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