Neo-con Sci-Fi: The Bakken Mythos

Tuesday, July 01, 2008 at 06:19 PM

And there are times I just enjoy bursting someone's bubble. I get a royal kick of it. Once again, I play iconoclast, and extend the WTW pin to prick yet another neocon fantasy...

Story follows shortly....yes...

If you're like me, at times, you're occasionally sent Freepermail, as I deem such, especially after the many reports that some data is A) pure fiction B) even more pure fiction or C) Somebody left out something in the translation.

I get this cute email. Yes, I will share, don't I always?

Subject: Can you believe this?

Uh-oh. Automatically smell the rat, eh?

Just poking around the Internet recently, I simply 'Googled' the search 'Untapped U.S. Oil Reserves,' and the result (like the current price of a gallon of gas - BLEW ME AWAY! Go ahead, take a minute and see for yourself! Never mind, I'll share some of the highlights I found.

1. Ever heard of the Bakken Formation? GOOGLE it. I did, and again, BLEW my mind. The U.S. Geological Service issued a report in April ('08) that only scientists and oilmen/women knew was coming, but man was it big. It was a revised report (hadn't been updated since '95) on how much oil was in this area of the western 2/3 of North Dakota; western South Dakota; and extreme eastern Montana ... check THIS out:

The Bakken is the largest domestic oil discovery since Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, and has the potential to eliminate all American dependence on foreign oil. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates it at 503 billion barrels. Even if just 10% of the oil is recoverable... at $107 a barrel, we're looking at a resource base worth more than $5.3 trillion.

'When I first briefed legislators on this, you could practically see their jaws hit the floor. They had no idea.' says Terry Johnson, the Montana Legislature's financial analyst.

'This sizeable find is now the highest-producing onshore oil field found in the past 56 years,' reports The Pittsburgh Post Gazette. It's a formation known as the Williston Basin, but is more commonly referred to as the 'Bakken.' And it stretches from Northern Montana, through North Dakota and into Canada. For years, U.S. oil exploration has been considered a dead en d. Even the 'Big Oil' companies gave up searching for major oil wells decades ago. However, a recent technological breakthrough has opened up the Bakken's massive reserves... and we now h ave access of up to 500 billion barrels. And because this is light, sweet oil, those billions of barrels will cost Americans just $16 PER BARREL!

You get the idea, right? I omit the rest, it's pure GOP caca, wanting me, you and everyone else to run right out and phone DC to get this thing drilled and straight away!.....right?

Right? And blame we treehuggers cause it ain't? Right?

Let us now review the data, then. Neocons ain't gonna like this part, because a good scientist like me always....challenges claims.

And believe it or not, this comes from a conservative news source!Imagine that!...

Reports circulating on the Internet tell of an oil field spanning parts of western North Dakota and eastern Montana where 400 billion barrels of oil supposedly are just waiting to be tapped. However, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) tells Cybercast News Service that those huge estimates are "a myth."

A USGS report issued in April estimates that there are between 3 billion to 4.3 billion barrels of oil in what is referred to as "the Bakken Formation" -- well below the 400 billion barrels discussed on the Web, but up from the previous estimate of 151 million barrels made in 1995.

Richard Pollastro, Bakken Formation task leader at the USGS, said the myth stems from a 1999 draft report -- never published -- by a now-deceased USGS employee, Leigh Price. Price estimated that the Bakken Formation holds up to 400 billion barrels of oil. To put that in perspective, Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, has about 260 billion barrels of known oil reserves.

Uh-oh! You mean we ain't scott free? Say it ain't so!

Thus, the fairy tale is gone bye-bye, at best 3 to 4.3 bbls, not the magic 400. How long would it last, if we can get to it? Consider than America chews up some 21 million barrels per day. That's roughly 7.7 billion barrels per year. That means, even IF we can drill the stuff, as it is SHALE, and IF we can get a great ain't gonna do diddly-damned-squat to sate our lunatic oil fix.

In other words, someone deliberately whizzed past the revised estimates, just like the revised estimates of ANWR, and again, the neocons of the net are screaming like turbofans that we treehuggers are at it again. As I stated earlier, in another piece, the geologist kids are pretty sharp, and by now, know the sad, horrid and painful truth: Peak Oil is here. This was known all the way back to 1952, sports fans.

So, do me a favor, neocons? Check your data before you email me. Save me humiliating you with....facts.

Oh, sorry, forgot, you don't care for facts. My bad.



Much of the discrepency reflects the difference between the total amount of oil residing in the field, and the amount of oil that can be recovered given the technology that we currently have.

The oil is inside the shale (rocks) and is definitely much harder to recover than oil sitting in a liquid pool.

Way back in 1976 I wrote a paper on the probability that we could ever obtain significant amounts of oil from shale. The answer then was "not really" and the answer now appears to still be "not really."

Removing oil from shale is a royal pain in the butt. Thirty years ago they hoped to excavate the shale, heat it, and withdraw the liquid oil that way. That meant the cost of excavating,, the cost of heating, and the cost of collecting and refining the oil. AND then there's the unfortunate fact that shale expands when heated. Even with the volume of the oil removed, the heated shale "leavings" would never fit back into the original area from which it had been excavated.

They seem to have developed better oil shale technologies now, which allow removal of some of the oil by drilling "in situ." Unfortunately, that method recovers only a small percentage of the oil in any field, and the field described in your e-mail is particularly difficult because the shale is not very porous.

Unlike the brain of the idiot who sent around the e-mail.

The Bakken formation oil is a drop in the bucket. Maybe we can get 1/4 million barrels per day, not much, as we are using 21 million barrels per day in the U.S.

Global oil production is now declining, from 85 million barrels per day to 60 million barrels per day by 2015. At the same time demand will increase 14%. This is like a 45% drop in 7 years. No one can reverse this trend, nor can we conserve our way out of this catastrophe. Because the demand is so high, it will always be higher than production; thus the depletion rate will continue until all recoverable oil is extracted.

We are facing the collapse of the highways that depend on diesel trucks for maintenance of bridges, cleaning culverts to avoid road washouts, snow plowing, roadbed and surface repair. When the highways fail, so will the power grid, as highways carry the parts, transformers, steel for pylons, and high tension cables, all from far away. With the highways out, there will be no food coming in from "outside," and without the power grid virtually nothing works, including home heating, pumping of gasoline and diesel, airports, communications, and automated systems. This is documented in a free 45 page report that can be downloaded and distributed/ emailed:

Lee, Doc, all true: What I found so hilarous was that as I cross-threaded this data, the end result was less fairy tale and more "Oh, Christ, not again!" data.

And the author didn't's shale, which really isn't oil at all, but a compound that requires a buttload of heat and pressure to turn into petrol. I seem to recall that Hexxon, back during the Carter years, abandoned such as "folly", owning to the fact that shale processing defies the EROEI calculus: Yeah, we can get oil from it, like I can also get oil from McDonald's fries, too.

Yet, it all seems to fit into the neocrud fantasy of "DRILL! DRILL! DRILL!". Did ANY of these morans bother to study petrogeology???

By the way, Doc, thanks for the killer article. Maybe I need to email it around to my neocon associates?

Nevermind, they don't read anyways.....!

Number Six,

Can I ask a few questions?

Where do I logon?

Over at the left side, and up a few, where it says Join Site.

Well, actually its somewhere in between the postive and negative stories you cited. When the report was done they used conservative estimates of the amount of recoverable oil to reach a figure of 1% of total field being recoverable. The amount of oil that is speculated to be in there keeps rising as there are aren't a lot of data points (wells) to determine overall total size of the field. So even with a 400-500bbl right now it is reasonble to expect to see that increase so long as wells keep being driled that have good run rates.

A few companies that lease land and drill in the area say they believe 4-6% is recoverable using current horizontal drilling technology. Ten years ago it was zero as they didn't have horizontal drilling. With an amount that large down there it is an incentive to research and find new ways to drill/capture oil. The recoverable percentage should slowly rise with time. How high? I don't know. But I would expect that it should get to the 15% range over time(10-15 years), which would be roughly 60-75 billion barrels on a 400-500bbl range.

I can't remember the name of the company (maybe National OIl anf Gas?) but I remember the comment. They drilled down and found a second formation right under the first one (or the bakken). They think it is possible that they are two distinct formations and that the geology of the site may lead it to being sealed off. If that is true they said you can double the 400-500bbl estimate. They won't know until they have more data points (wells).

So lets split the difference for the company that says current 4% on the low end and the govt that says 1% and say that they can recover 2.5%. That's still 10 bbl. That's still a lot of oil. And if it is two seperate distinct formations that do not diffuse into one another then you can double that to 20 bbl. Now that is a significant find. Petrobras (Brazil) found their Tupi field of around that size and it was considered to be a huge find.

Also, don't believe the reserve numbers from the middle east. OPEC allows members to sell an amount of oil relative to their reserves. More reserves, more oil sold, more money. There's an incentive to report large reserves. Check out the numbers below showing level amounts for a few years and then suddenly a large increase. Also, some of these reporting the same number year after year means they are finding the exact amount in new oil that they just sold the previous year. Right. go to the link to see the numbers and data on the middle east (its about 3/4 of the way down the page):

this is the link - sorry

I don't trust OPEC's data any further than I can throw my home.

And I've read Dr. Wirth's paper twice now, it confirms reports from other sources that are not tied surgically to the API, HExxon or other PR outlets.

Interesting sidebar, too: Bill Moyers has said it aloud, and I caught a girl on CBS saying it, what we always knew: We went to Iraq at the behest of HExxon. Well, waddaya know, eh?

But, overall, I still park my dollars on M K Hubbert's mathematics, and so far, his work was flawless. 1956, and SHell, his employer, begged him not to release it. He did anyways.

And why, oh, why, didn't we get the joke until now?

First off I want to just say that you are right about the USGS report stating that the known recoverable reserves in the Bakken Field is at 4 billion barrels with todays technologies, which are changing rapidly as we speak. The number of 400 billion barrels that you have also seen is also correct. This is the amount of the reserves that are thought to be in this field. The difference between the 4 billion barrels and the 400 billion barrels is not recoverable today, but more of it will be in the future as drilling technologies progress.

The Bakken is not a new find. It was discovered in 1951 I believe, but the oil was at that time very hard to get at as they did not have the horizontal technologies that we have today, and was also not cost effect. Today with the new technologies and oil at over $140 a barrel it is very cost effective and as long as oil sells for over $60 a barrel it will be cost effect. So for years it was thought of as a mythical oil field, but not anymore. In the last few years they have been drilling up there like crazy. How do I know this you might ask? I know from my husband who is a directional driller of these oil wells in the Bakken. He has been working up there for about 5 years now. When he started up there the wells were small and not producing all that much, but in the last couple of years there has been a boom up there and they cannot drill it fast enough. He is never at home anymore. The wells are getting bigger and producing more and although they are not the huge gushers that we saw in the past they are producing quite nicely thank you very much! The farmers of N Dakota are becoming millionaires overnight and the economy up there is booming. There are plenty of jobs and no one to fill them.

Where you get your information from I don't know, but it is all wrong. Maybe just for once you should believe what other people are telling you and not rely on the likes of Bill Moyers and 'some girl on CBS'. They are just toeing the party line. The oil is there and we need to get it out and use it ourselves and stop this oil dependancy on other countries. We have more than enough oil reserves in this country to dwarf the whole of the Middle East. I suggest that before you make another stupid statement about the Bakken being a 'MYTH' that you Google 'Bakken Oil Field' and read through all the information available. The information is out there, just look for it and suspend you disbelief for a while. Better yet take a trip up there and visit my husband on his rig and then tell me there is no oil up there. The wells are everywhere, as far as you can see.

If we went into Iraq for the Oil, then how come after 5 years we are not drilling it and just taking it for ourselves. We could have done this if we had wanted to. Instead we have turned the oil field over to the Iraqi Government and they are in the process out opening the bidding for the leases with the big five oil companies, not all American either. Oh and by the way, Halliburton is not an oil or energy company as some people seem to think. They are a service and supply company and they service and supply more than just oil companies.

Oh and why are you relying on some report that was published in 1956?! Anything in that report is so out of date in 2008 it is not funny!!!!


Oil shale contains a substance called kerogen. In order to convert kerogen into oil or natural gas, it usually requires a lot of pressure and a lot of heat. It is possible to do this, but, last I looked, the process does not meet the EROEI calculation as being cost effective. Unless, of course, OPEC and the speculators jack the price past $150 a barrel, and by then, it won't matter as the entire nation will be into a kind of financial Chernobyl...where nobody can afford anything, cars, trucks and aircraft will be parked and we'll have ourselves a doozy of a Great Depression.

The horizontal drilling is one thing, again, processing this OIL SHALE into petroleum is yet another matter. Is it as cost effective as some claim it is? We shall wait and see.

My POINT...which was that the author of this email (which I did some research on, and ties to one of those "get rich quick" deals) makes it sound as if the Bakken fields are like those in Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and other places, meaning, just drill, pump and refine. I saw NO mention whatsoever of Oil Shale.

Too, the numbers are not good. I prefer not to gamble on a longshot. 400 bbls was rethought, the best is around 3-4 can be converted.

And yes, I'm more than aware that many companies are out there right now, already drilling their tails off. Small problem? The new finds aren't promising, despite the hype of some. And as the wily old geologist Hubbert predicted, yes, back in '56, the current fields are now slowing down and playing out. Russia, yes, reports a slowdown in their field production rates.

Point? We can drill to Hell itself, it is not the answer. The new finds are discouraging to say the least, and to me, the most logical answer is not cutting off foreign oil, it's getting rid of all oil, period. It will be tough, but, honestly, based on what I've read and studied so far, the sooner we lose the addiction to oil, the better.


Boy, that's some devastating news, really is. Six's story must be all wrong.

The USGS report from this past April not only states that Bakken has "an estimated 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil," but notes that, through the end of 2007, the total oil recovered from that formation was "About 105 million barrels of oil." Nothing to sneeze at, but certainly not evidence that this field is going to turn the US into the leading producer of oil or anything like that. If the farmers are making lots of money, good for them, but that also doesn't mean that Bakken will turn the US oil fortunes around.

And why indeed rely on "some report that was published in 1956." I mean, just because that remains the seminal report on the likelihood of having reached the oil peak is no reason to pay any attention to it whatsoever.

I'm just curious, you wouldn't be the same "kiwigranny" who's a contributor to Senator James Inhofe's blog, would you?

If so, would you also be the person with the same name who posted the anti-Muslim screed over at Daniel Pipes' web site?

So the oil wells currently being drilled in the Bakken are not promising even though the oil companies are out their drilling their tails off. Oh really. First of all do you really think the oil companies would waste their time, and money drilling their tails off, for "not promising" returns?! You could not be more wrong! The wells out there are not gushers as in the past but they are producing very nicely.

The Bakken consists of shale and dolomite and does not require heating to extract the oil. I think you are confusing this field with the much talked about shale oil in the Rockies. Horizontal drilling and fracturing is how they get the oil in the Bakken and until very recently only a few companies had the know-how to do this.
The Bakken oil is among the sweetest crude produced anywhere in the world. This means that it is easily refined and cheaply refined.

The reason that we are not currently seeing an impact from the Bakken is that most of the oil being produced at the moment is being bunkered as there is no room in the pipeline for this oil as the pipeline is full of Canadian oil coming down here to be refined. We need more pipelines and more refineries. Remember we have not built a refinery in over 30 years and many that were working back then have been closed down. One refinery is under construction in Arizona and another is planned for Montana in the near future.

The Bakken in and of itself may not make us independant of foreign oil in the near future, but with the new technologies coming online everyday, it could be in the future. Over all we have more known oil reserves in the USA than any other country in the world. What about all the oil offshore, not just off this country but in many countries around the world, notably Brazil, New Zealand and Liberia. The fields in Liberia and New Zealand have been researched and explored and will soon begin drilling. Brazil is a little further off I think. The world is awash in oil, it is just harder to get than in the past but with oil at the price it is now it is economical and will remain so for the foreseeable future. And you are right the fields currently being exploited around the world are diminishing in output and this has nothing to do with 'peak oil'. This is not because the world is running out of oil. It is just that the easy oil is running out. Many of the capped off wells around the world thought to be empty can now produce way more oil today with our new technologies. Some Russians believe that oil is renewing itself. Personally I think it is just better technology to get it out.

And yes to answer you question I am the same kiwigranny who posted on Daniel Pipes and James Inhofes website, and your point is?

"So the oil wells currently being drilled in the Bakken are not promising even though the oil companies are out their drilling their tails off.

You are again missing the point. "promising" is not what was being discussed, but whether this field is the panacea that it was portrayed as in the e-mail Six was discussing. The oil companies will drill wherever they think they can make a dollar, but their making a dollar doesn't mean that this is a significant part of the oil shortage solution. The best USGS estimate remains that the Bakken field will not produce sufficient oil to be a significant contributor to the national supply.

We need more pipelines and more refineries. Remember we have not built a refinery in over 30 years and many that were working back then have been closed down

I suggest you read the post on this site from 6/24 (..Energy Crisis Funhouse), which includes the following from an April, 2007 article:

While refinery capacity may not be growing as fast as demand, it is growing.

For example, [executive vice president at the national Petrochemical and Refiners Association Charlie] Drevna noted that expansion projects at the nation's existing refineries have had the effect of adding the equivalent of a brand new refinery every year. That increase came despite mandates for cleaner gasoline and diesel fuel, which take longer to make.

And the future looks even brighter.

"There is a tremendous amount of expansion," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, speaking of projects at existing facilities. "We will have a solid increase in North American refining capacity, but not for another two years."

Kloza said much of the expansion would come along the Gulf of Mexico and in the Midwest, an ideal spot to process heavy crude from Canada's emerging oil sand deposits.

The only place that might not see more capacity is the West Coast, said Kloza, where there is little refinery expansion planned, leaving the region more dependent on expensive imports.

..... Overseas expansion is moving even more quickly, with $300 billion slated for refining projects over the next 20 years in places like India, the Caribbean, Mexico, the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region.
Much of the international capacity will feed surging demand in the developed world. But some will also supply the United States and Europe.

Why, by the way, are oil companies "drilling their tails off" in the Bakken field now if there is no current way to refine that oil (especially since producing the Bakken oil has got to be more expensive that pumping from traditional liquid pools of oil)?

As to why I wanted to know if you were the person posting on the Peipes and Inhofe sites, I just like to know the perspective of the person I'm talking to.

Can't answer your question on why they are drilling in the Bakken if the can't get the oil to the refineries. It is one of the things about this whole mess that really has us pissed off, as we can't find out the answer to this. I guess that we are contracted to buy this oil from Canada, but it would make much more sense to be sending our own oil down instead. And our oil from the Bakken is sweet crude and so much easier and cheaper to refine than the Canadian oil sands. That is heavy crude and much harder to refine.

I think it has been mentioned here that our domestic oil production has been declining in recent years. This was the easier oil to get, and it is drying up, not just here but all over the world. That is why we now have to go after the more difficult oil to get. It is not that there is no more oil, there is plenty of it, but it is harder to get, but we do have the technology to do it. I wish there was an easy answer but with the politics of the whole thing there does not seem to be.

We still feel that there is enough oil in the Bakken (with the help of new technologies) to make a serious difference in our foreign oil dependency, if not solve the problem altogether. I can only go on what my husband tells me about the situation up there as he should know he is working up there drilling these holes. In the 5 years he has been up there he has probaly drilled at least 20 wells. This year alone he has drilled about 4 wells.


Lots of misunderstanding here about the Bakken.


Has a complex geology that is already yielding to horizontal drilling and fracturing of the oil bearing formations. While the source rock is shale, the reservoir rock is not. Part of the problem in understanding the controversy of this formation lies in the arguments surrounding the big question: Has the oil present originally migrated outside of the Bakken into adjacent formations? A close examination of the composition of the Bakken oil has provided evidence suggesting it has not left the Bakken.

For the whole story, there is an excellent summary of the controversies found here:

Also at the same site is the power point presentation on the history of the Bakken from a geological point of view.

Here is some production history:

The middle formations of the Bakken are productive. One well cost 2.2 million and had initial production of 500 to 700 BOPD and no water. With those numbers, you pay for your initial drilling in two months. Not a bad return. This was in 2004 and we are learning more every day on how to drill in these types of formations.

One company recently paid about 1.65 billion for the drilling rights over 150,000 acres. The president of this company anticipates eventually recovering 3 billion barrels. At today's prices, 300 billion; nice business. That is why there is a rush for drilling rights in this region.

Another nice thing: all the land is in private hands. It will be dirt poor wheat farmers who will decide what gets drilled, not a bunch of bureaucrats managing public lands.

There is a lot of oil in the Bakken, the drill will tell us what can be recovered. It is in the billions of barrels.

This is going to be fun to watch.



The details of the links didn't show up in my posting.

At ndgs/ click on the link entitled "Middle Bakken Play".

At the page displayed, you find:

Evolution of Oil Production in the Bakken Formation

Montana North Dakota? Middle Member Bakken Play


Bakken Formation Reserve Estimates

Sorry, this website edited my links.