Bigger Bakken: Continental test wells in Three Forks show there may be 903B barrels of oil
Using a dessert metaphor to describe the Bakken energy play, officials from the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources and industry experts are finding the oil-producing cake to be deeper and more layered all the time.
"If you look at the Bakken like a layered cake, we're starting to see how big and wide this cake is," said DMR spokesperson Alison Ritter. "What we're seeing is companies are beginning to experiment with how many layers this cake is going to have."
If the latest numbers from Continental Resources -- the most active of the major players in the Bakken -- are any indication, North Dakota might want to think about getting a bigger fork.
After poring over core samples and other data, and crunching some numbers, Continental officials predicted in 2012 that there could be as much as 57 percent more oil in the Bakken and Three Forks formations than what the company estimated as recently as 2010, said Continental Senior Vice President of Exploration Jack Stark.
"It certainly appears that our findings indicate that there is significantly more oil in place," said Stark during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. "We're very encouraged. At this point, what we've demonstrated is that we can get commercial production from the lower benches of the Three Forks."
Information provided by Stark -- and available on Continental's website -- indicate the company estimated three years ago that 577 billion barrels of oil were under the Bakken's surface. Since the implementation of a number of test wells that have drilled deeper into the Three Forks -- including further buried tiers of the formation dubbed TF2, TF3 and TF4 -- Stark said Continental has adjusted its estimate to a whopping 903 billion barrels of oil, an increase of 57 percent in less than three years.
"This has significant implications for not only Continental, but for the broader Bakken field and all the operators in the Bakken field," Stark said. "It's also great news for all the mineral owners in the basin. This says there is more oil than originally thought and that means more oil ultimately will be produced."
Given a recoverable factor of 4 percent -- which is how much oil Continental predicts will be able to be commercially produced -- the 903 billion barrels would mean roughly 36 billion barrels of oil could ultimately be syphoned from Bakken reserves, according to data presented to Continental investors in October.
Though the estimates are not new, Stark said that 13 of a planned 20 test wells in the deep regions of the Three Forks -- including testing zones in Dunn County -- have been completed this year with several more scheduled to be finished before 2013's end. Stark added that Continental isn't the only oil and gas operator exploring deeper into the vast Bakken play.
"The database for the productivity and the incremental reserve additions that will come from the Three Forks is building daily," Stark said. "This is a very significant addition to the play and we're going to continue to assess what impact it ultimately has. What we initially thought was a two-layer reservoir rock is now looking like a five-layer reservoir."
Essentially what it has found to date, Stark said, is the results from the completed test wells -- which are dotted over a 3,800-square-mile swath of the Bakken -- have proven to be hard evidence that there is more oil deep in the earth than what was previously thought. A lot more.
With more than 1 million acres of land leased in the Bakken and sitting in the pilot's seat as the region's top oil producer, Continental is sure to have a lot of eyeballs on its Three Forks exploration operations.
Though Continental's recent findings could potentially stretch the duration of the already massive Bakken play, Ritter said more work needs to be done before anything is set in stone.
"There's a lot of research that has yet to be done," Ritter said. "There are studies being done looking at what's going to be the best scenario for drilling in the Bakken and Three Forks into the future. Anytime there is success to report, however, it's good news."