Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bakken-Oil Boom or Boondogle

Lately I've been hearing from normally sane people about the "undeveloped" oil riches of North America in particular the Bakken Oil fields of the northern prairies. While I would like to think my Brother Blue Eyed Arabs of the North have finally stumbled on the mother lode, the reality is likely to be less than optimal as per the "Oil Drum":

"What's next for the Bakken?

Bakken production is trending upward and should continue for some time. The October 2007 production of 75,000 BOPD equates to 27 million barrels per year, a substantial amount by most measures for the US onshore sector. This only amounts to about 0.4% of US consumption (using a base of 20,700 BOBP, based on EIA data), or 0.6% of US imports.

Drilling activity in the Bakken continues at a frenetic pace. It's difficult to predict how long the upward trend in production will continue. Over the long term, economics will play a significant role in determining how much production will be expanded.


1. The Bakken shale has produced about 111 million barrels of oil during the last 50+ years in Montana and North Dakota.

2. Total Bakken production is still rising, and producing at the rate of 75,000 BOPD in October 2007.

3. Because of the highly variable nature of shale reservoirs, the characteristics of the historical Bakken production, and the fact that per-well rates seem to have peaked, it seems unlikely that total Bakken production will exceed 2x to 3x current rate of 75,000 BOPD.

4. The latest boom in Bakken production is driven by the application of horizontal wells and hydraulic fracturing technology, which has added about 70 million barrels of production in 7 years. Ultimate recovery of the already-drilled wells should be at least double this volume.

5. The USGS estimates the mean volume of technically recoverable hydrocarbons to be 3,649 million barrels of oil. This is roughly 7 to 12 times the size of already known resources.

6. Based on current production and areas likely to be drilled, the USGS estimate of technically recovery resources seems optimistic.

7. The Bakken potential resource, while large by US onshore field standards, will have only a minor effect on US production or imports. Using 2006 US imports and consumption for comparison, the Bakken undiscovered resource of 3,649 million barrels of oil, if subsequently discovered and fully developed, would provide us with the equivalent of six months of oil consumption or 10 months of imports, spread over 20 or more years. In reality, the reserves developed are likely to be many times smaller than this value.

8. The October 2007 production rate of 75,000 BOPD amounts only 0.4% of US oil consumption, or 0.6% of imports.

9. Per-well Bakken production peaked in August 2005 at 116 barrels a day, and was down to 79 barrels a day in October 2007. If the Bakken production history in the 1990s can be used as a guide, the peaking of per-well production may portend a peak in total Bakken production."

I think point #7 is especially well taken, for in the long run world demand will overshadow American demand and production by a long shot. We can only wonder when U.S. politicians on the Right and Left will start dealing with reality or in other words Peak Oil.

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