North Dakota may soon be giving Texas a run for its money in the oil industry.  Information released last month by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior, indicates that oil and gas resources in the Bakken and Three Forks formations contain about 7.4 billion barrels (BBO) of undiscovered and technically recoverable oil.  The shale formations located in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota have been reassessed, estimating undiscovered resources that drastically increase the amounts previously reported in 2008.  The region where the Bakken and Three Forks are located, known as the Williston Basin is already a large oil producer.  But, the newly discovered resources are almost entirely located within the Three Forks formation, which is situated primarily in North Dakota; a state with only one existing, and two planned refineries.

A USGS assessment in 2008 that only explored the Bakken Formation estimated the recoverable oil in the Williston Basin to be about 3.68BBO.  This most recent report more than doubles that figure.  The USGS explains that more than 4,000 wells have been drilled in the area since 2008.  The drilling provided considerable additional data on the geologic conditions and resources in the Basin.   This included the Three Forks formation, which had previously been thought to be relatively unproductive.

Natural gas is also abundant in these formations.  The new assessment estimates an average 6.7 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas, along with another .53 billion barrels of previously undiscovered natural gas liquids.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell explained:

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.  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.

The response by oil and gas companies to this news has been swift and positive.  Companies large and small are eager to take advantage of the Bakken and Three Forks formations.  Some lawmakers are encouraged by the promise of new drilling operations.  Senator John Hoeven R-N.D. mentioned that “This will mean a lot of jobs” for his state.

Beyond local impacts, additional recoverable resources in the United States will have major implications for energy independence and economic security.  While the transition to cleaner energy sources remains an important goal, we can’t ignore our current reliance on fossil fuel.

Responsible production of the newly discovered oil and gas in the Bakken and Three Forks formations can promote energy independence.  The United States has already seen a reduction of 10% in net oil imports in the last year, and that number should continue to increase as we develop domestic resources.  The benefits to Americans of a greater supply of cheaper domestic oil will range from cheaper fuel, lower electricity costs, and even lower cost of manufactured goods.



03/08/2015 3:27pm

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02/26/2016 7:16am

The industrialization and population boom has put a strain on roads, water supplies, sewage systems, and government services in the area. Some counties have increased in population by almost double from 20,000 to 40,000.The boom has brought with it increases in crime and social problems.Nice article you have shared.I am a technician working at


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