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Boom Go the Dakotas

The shale bonanza just keeps on giving. The Williston Basin, one of the biggest sources of shale oil and gas in the US, has much more recoverable energy than previously estimated. This resource, located primarily in North Dakota (there are some fields in South Dakota, Montana and Canada), may have three times as much undiscovered shale gas and double the shale oil than was previously estimated in 2008. The USGS announced yesterday that North Dakota’s Three Forks formation has resources that are now “technically recoverable” thanks to advances in drilling technology. From the Department of the Interior’s press release:

The assessments found that the formations contain an estimated mean of 7.4 billion barrels (BBO) of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil. The updated assessment for the Bakken and Three Forks represents a twofold increase over what has previously been thought…This estimate represents a nearly threefold increase in mean natural gas…from the 2008 assessment….

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.

“Technically recoverable” doesn’t mean that all of that oil and gas will come out of the ground. The price of natural gas and oil needs to be sufficiently high for drillers to make a profit extracting it.

But even with that caveat, this is excellent news. It’s also a reminder that technology isn’t fixed. It is a process, rather than a discrete event. It’s always advancing. The cost of extracting this energy will decline as drilling technology improves and still more reserves become recoverable.

There are a lot of things to be optimistic about in the 21st century. America’s energy future is certainly one of them.

[Oil rig image courtesy of Shutterstock]

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