Bakken Boom May Need Timeout

Three Forks Formation - Williston Basin

Earlier this year, the USGS estimated “mean undiscovered volumes of 7.4 billion barrels of oil, 6.7 trillion cubic feet of associated/dissolved natural gas, and 0.53 billion barrels of natural gas liquids in the Bakken and Three Forks Formations in the Williston Basin Province of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.”

Interesting news out of North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields last month indicate there may be even more resources in the ground:

Williston Basin pioneer Continental Resources has completed enough exploratory work on the lower benches of the Three Forks to conclude that the play is massive, full of oil, and more.

“It is looking commercial over a very large geographic area, where we think that at least one and in many cases two of these deeper benches will be commercially productive,” said Winston Frederick Bott, Continental’s president and chief operating officer.

“We have confirmed the resource tank — the production capability of the reservoirs. We’ve confirmed it’s filled with oil. We’ve confirmed it’s not filled with water.”

The middle Bakken and underlying first bench of the Three Forks are today’s primary sources of oil in the Bakken petroleum system. However, the lower zones of the Three Forks — TF2, TF3 and TF4 — have been largely a mystery.

In the conference call with industry analysts, Continental described a “potential productive footprint” of about 3,800 square miles in the heart of the Bakken. “During 2013, Continental completed 14 test wells, with another four wells now completing, one drilling and three waiting to be drilled… The company plans to complete 47 gross wells to help determine the optimum spacing and pattern to “maximize the ultimate recovery” from multiple reservoirs.”

Meanwhile, development continues full-bore in the Bakken region of North Dakota and eastern Montana.  Williams County (Williston, ND) Commisioners recently considered a 6-month moratorium on new major subdivision and zoning change applications, to try to catch up on a growing backlog.  As the Williston Herald opined last week:

Williams County has made mistakes over the last few years primarily due to a massive workload and no planning director. The workload has not decreased, but [new Planning Director Ray] Pacheco is already making improvements to the planning process.

The best step Pacheco and the county can make is having regulations that are current, accurate and reflect the conditions Williams County is currently facing. Rewriting the subdivision regulations is a great step in that process. The timing of the break, mostly over the winter months, won’t cause extensive delays in the approval process, but it will allow Williams County to get it right when developers do come calling.

It sounds like the City of Williston is keeping up a bit better, and likely is much better positioned to handle the infrastructure and public services needs of residential development.  I know Williston Economic Development Director Tom Rolfstad is a smart guy and I’m sure he’s on top of the situation.

Its good to see good things happening back home in North Dakota.  I hope we do it right this time.



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