The Bakken Shale: A New Horizon
North Dakota’s Bakken Shale has gained significant attention in the past few years, and recent recoverable oil estimates have sparked interest on a national level. Estimates reveal that three to four billion barrels of oil are recoverable through the use of enhanced drilling technology. This presents a promising opportunity for ambitious operators and allows the United States to slowly reduce their reliance on foreign oil.
Operators use horizontal drilling to recover these expansive reserves. Drilling deep within the earth, operators can now angle the direction of their drill bit and move laterally to access new locations.
Fracking techniques are used to fracture the formation and allow oil to flow more freely. High volumes of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals are then pumped through the pipe to aid this process. This can dramatically increase the volume of oil recovered.
As with most endeavors, complications arise. In the past, horizontal drilling and fracking techniques have posed environmental problems. One main focus is the protection of ground water from contamination. The chemicals used in the fracking process can inadvertently contaminate an underground water supply if the well is not drilled properly.
So what does this mean for the Bakken Shale?
First, the Bakken Shale is the largest oil discovery since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, and drilling activity is bound to increase dramatically. Horizontal drilling is the future of exploration and production and a key driver in the Bakken’s success. Secondly, geologists and operators need to establish further preventive measures to avoid ground water contamination and reduce the environmental concerns of horizontal drilling.
The untapped potential of the Bakken Shale may prove to be one of the greatest shale plays in U.S. history, but only time will tell.