This article implies things that are not correct

It perpetuates the idea that the USGS says there’s 300 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the Bakken, when their current value for recoverable oil is just one percent of that – 3 to 4.3 billion. Oil in place is not the same as recoverable oil. Thanks to all the drilling, the USGS is about to undertake a re-evaluation, but the likelihood of the recoverable estimate increasing in a huge way is low. North Dakota’s oil production, 340,000 b/day in Feb 2011 (ranking ND fifth in the US), is about 6% of US production, and despite the increases in North Dakota, US production was down almost 1% in Feb 2011 over Feb 2010.



  1. 0 Votes

    Respectfully, I disagree with your objections.

    While you are right to point out that, yes, according to the USGS there are only 3 – 4.3 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil in the Bakken, you are neglecting other considerations in relying so heavily upon those figures alone.  North Dakota’s State Department of Mineral Resources currently estimates that 11 billion barrels of oil are technically recoverable from the Bakken.  

    The USGS assessment you are referring to is based upon 3 year-old data, from 2008.  To substantiate the idea that these numbers are likely an under-estimate, consider that just this past Thursday (5/19/11), Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that the USGS will be conducting another survey of the Bakken to formally re-assess its recoverable oil reserves, citing “significant new geological information” and “ever-advancing production technologies.”  From the USGS press release:

    “The new scientific information presented to us from technical experts clearly warrants a new resource assessment of the Bakken,” said USGS Energy Resources Program Coordinator Brenda Pierce. “The new information is significant enough for the evaluation to begin sooner than it normally would. It is important to look at this resource and its potential contribution to the national energy portfolio.”

    Also from the release:

    ‘“The Bakken Formation is producing an ever-increasing amount of oil for domestic consumption while providing increasing royalty revenues to American Indian tribes and individual Indian mineral owners in North Dakota and Montana,” Salazar noted.’

    Remember, too, that in 1995 the USGS believed only 151 million barrels were technically recoverable.  Their updated 2008 estimates indicate a 25-fold increase, and many scientists and officials now expect the number to continue to rise as recovery technologies improve.  (This is why the article spends a lot of time talking about hydraulic fracturing.)

    If you are still skeptical, you can consider the trend of increasing production from the Bakken over the past few years as an indication of the increasing role the area is playing in domestic oil production.  According to the state of North Dakota, approximate oil production from the Bakken is recorded as follows:

    2008 – 28 million barrels produced

    2009 – 50 million barrels produced

    2010 – 86 million barrels produced

    The main point of the article was to highlight a trend, a burgeoning source of domestically produced oil.  It does not intend to promote the Bakken as a sort of petroleum panacea, or some miraculous solution to our oil shortage.  Rather, it aims to remind readers of the current, politically untenable status of nuclear power, the restrictions on offshore drilling, and the volatility of the foreign oil market, and how the current state of affairs in the U.S. will likely make the Bakken play even more significant.  

    Also remember that the USGS is only one source of information.  A legitimate source?  Absolutely; but still, it is a federally-funded organization made up of scientists whose work is hardly infallible.  Human error and outdated information make over-reliance upon this source alone unwise.  Countless examples of miscalculations and misconceptions by other respectable federal organizations, like the EPA for instance, are a testament to this.  

    Take the example in this article about the EPA’s study of hydraulic fracturing and its impact on local water supplies.  “In 2004, the EPA published an official study positing that hydraulic fracturing was essentially harmless to the safety of nearby water supplies.  The report has since been discredited for over reliance on biased sources of information (read: scientists funded by the oil industry).  The agency is expected to release a new study in 2012.”

    On a final note, no, the article does not make a basic distinction between the terms “technically recoverable oil” and “total oil reserves” because it targets readers who likely already understand the difference.  Perhaps providing a hyperlink to explicit definitions would be more prudent.  Either way, at no point in the article are those two terms interchangeable.  Each estimate mentioned is specific. Examples:

    – Second paragraph: “Geologists currently estimate that eleven billion barrels of recoverable oil …” 

    – Conclusion: “The U.S. Geological Survey has recently indicated that the Bakken could hold as many as 300 billion barrels of crude oil in total, and the recovery rates are ever more optimistic.”

    Thus, I disagree that the article “perpetuates” the misconception that there are 300 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the Bakken.  Hopefully, this explanation clarifies your initial objections.


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