Bakken Oil: 
Cash Machine or Money Pit?

The Bakken oil field, now with the Three Forks field, seems to keep getting better and better. Everybody is looking for a sure-fire winner when it comes to investment, so news that the latest United States Geological Survey (USGS) release has doubled the oil estimate and tripled the gas estimate for this region has been warmly welcomed.

bakken boundaries

Sound too good to be true? Maybe yes, maybe no. In order to sort out fact from fiction, we can have a look at the data provided by the Government experts. With a bit of logical reasoning at least some of the facts will become clearer. 

Increased USGS Bakken Oil Estimates: Great!

First, the facts. For the combined Bakken / Three Forks oil bearing region, the USGS estimates 7.05 billion barrels of oil, half a billion barrels of liquid natural gas and 6.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are technically recoverable. That's an important term, and I'll get onto that shortly.

It is important to realize here that the values just mentioned are an ESTIMATE, an educated guess. A guess by experts, but still a guess. Their assessment for all these resources varies 50% to either side. For example, with the oil their LOWER end estimate is 4.4 billion barrels. The actual values for the estimates are on the 2013 USGS report on the formation.

It is also worth keeping in mind that the gas estimate has risen so dramatically because of the inclusion of the Three Forks formation in the same analysis as the Bakken results. The increase was not due to the USGS finding vastly more gas in the area than was known before. 

discrete oil deposit

Continuous Oil = Continuous Work

The term "technically recoverable" is very appropriate to this and all continuous oil formations. In order to access financially viable amounts of oil regular drilling (vertical) needs to be combined with horizontal drilling and the highly controversial process of fracking.

Fracking in one area will only make the oil of that area available. If we are to extract all the oil from the bakken / Three Forks formation, the entire area would need to be fracked. And once that process is performed in an area it can never be undone, and problems associated with it will be there to stay for a long time.

continuous deposit as in Bakken oil

Not all oil-bearing shale deposits are equally accessible. Depth of the deposit as well as ease of access on the surface terrain will make a proportion of this oil forever out of reach, even though it is still "technically" recoverable.

Technically we could send people to Jupiter. The point is the estimates do not include this factor. It is easy to see that access and depth will have very large effects on the profitability or lack of for any drilling operation in the region.

Does Bakken Oil mix with Salt?

No it does not, but I will still be looking at the Bakken with a grain of salt. When reading non-governmental claims about the profits to be had investing your money in Bakken oil development, I strongly recommend a calm, logical fact-oriented approach. It doesn't look like a winner to me, but I am not an expert in oil drilling; I have just accumulated some facts and reasoning as I have outlined above.

Last Updated 7th March 2014



› The Bakken

What Do You Think?

If you've got some experience investing or working in this region or if you have an opinion on this article or part of its contents, you can start a discussion using the form below. 

Remember, the more detail you can add initially, the more other readers will be able to provide constructive comments.

What Do You Think?

If you've got some experience investing or working in this region or if you have an opinion on this article or part of its contents, you can start a discussion using the form below.

Remember, the more detail you can add initially, the more other readers will be able to provide constructive comments.

Summarize your question here

Some guiding questions to get you started...[ ? ]

Upload 1-4 Pictures or Graphics (optional)[ ? ]

Add a Picture/Graphic Caption (optional) 

Click here to upload more images (optional)

Author Information (optional)

To receive credit as the author, enter your information below.

Your Name

(first or full name)

Your Location

(e.g., City, State, Country)

Submit Your Contribution

Check box to agree to these submission guidelines.


(You can preview and edit on the next page)

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

Oil is flowing in Bakken 
I just found out about this Bakken Oil Field from a friend traveling around the country who tried to buy an RV in Missoula MT. and could not! They told …

All energy sources are part of the solution 
Why would I even expect an objective, unbiased report from solar energy advocates?? The solution to the nation's energy needs lies in a combination of …

Horizontal drilling? 
At what stage of development are we at with "Horizontal drilling"? Where can I find pertinent info on horizontal drilling? I'm glad to have found your …

Avenging Hawk wants to know 
why is it then that we are paying up the nose for gas if this is true 4.3 billion of domestic oil barrels is better than what we have now so who will benefit …

Pretty Lame Explanation for Bakken Oil 
I've been a petroleum geologist for 29 years and the explanation above is the lamest I have seen in a long while. Your figures of "continuous" versus …

The Bakken Is The Best! 
I flow test new wells in the Bakken Shale of North Dakota. These wells rock! I've never seen a well puke up 3000 Barrels of oil per day in my life until …

How long before Bakken Oil will or can be developed in US? 
Why wouldn't drilling for oil be smart for the US? Why shouldn't people be mad aware of this and fight the environmentalists - LOOK AT THE JOBS THAT WOULD …

The Question is...What do you Mean by Sustainable? 
I don't know a thing about the Bakken Oil Field other then what I've read here, but I would tend to trust the men who have worked in the area over the …

scale of bakken oil 
Show us what the cost would be to extract the oil, I see no cost analysis and if there is an estimate total volume of 413 billion barrels of oil; how will …

follow the money..? 
Is the Bakken oil field on federal or private land? Who is drilling there? Who is furnishing the money? If it is on federal land how much money is returned …

Just a bunch of Bull 
Oil was discovered in Montana years ago and these wells were plugged and most were called "tight holes". They were drilled miles from any means of transportation …

Not being heavily developed? Not rated yet
I work in these regions, the economic boom and development is off the chart and new studies have identified additional deposits. It is unfortunate that …

EPA nazis and Bakken pipe dreams? Not rated yet
Obviously the green energy pogs can't stand the fact that the U.S. has vast reserves of yet untapped energy and they are attempting to put a negative spin …

Boom in Bakken - Not all good Not rated yet
I live in Glendive Montana a few miles from the Bakken area. The place is now currently in a "boom". Available housing is almost extinct. Man camps are …

Environmental effects of removing oil? Not rated yet
What does taking the oil out of the earths effects on our environment? Isnt the oil, kinda like the earths blood? What is the effects? If the earth is …

If I find out you aren't telling all the truth what then? Not rated yet
Surely you are down playing the whole truth all of the "tree huggers of the world" have been brought out by the spotted owl crap! That is to say that you …

Bakken and the world economy Not rated yet
How many people realize that it is BIG OIL paying the lobyst in Washington to keep a lid on this project? The Bakken Oil fields are for real. Do you …

Mineral Right Lease Not rated yet
I hold mineral rights in the Williston Basin. I have been contacted by various parties to lease my mineral rights again. The initial offer was not even …

Fracking in the Bakken Not rated yet
Will "fracking" be used to remove any of the oil from the Bakken oil field?

Several Overlooked Details; The Bakken Oil Field Not rated yet
First, I've BEEN there! Second, I'm for alt. energy sources, WHEN citizens FORCE industry & gov't. to DO SOMETHING RIGHT, for a 'change'. The oil companies …

The Bakken is our chance Not rated yet
to let every one in this great country back to the chance of saving money for them selves. This consortium that has the hold on every one is not about …

Why wait? Not rated yet
I believe that it would be an accurate prediction to say that what will most likely happen will be the following. The middle east will one day "aquire" …

Capped or Plugged? Not rated yet
I have inherited mineral rights on land within the Bakken oil field. Years ago some wells were drilled, then capped and left. Is there a difference between …

Ridiculous standards Not rated yet
I love the way the environmentalists puts down each and every potential and actual oil and gas play and reserve development as being immaterial since no …

Click here to write your own.

Bakken oil fields Not rated yet
Why do some people not want to believe that oil energy is not sustainable or environmentally sound? (Strip mining was once thought a good idea, too.) …

Great Effort and Expense? Not rated yet
Why in the world would anyone think that recovering oil is not done without great effort and expense? History has proven that unknown oil sources will …

How? Not rated yet
How are we supposed to believe anything when we are told in one report there are trillions of barrels of oil in this fields that will last the U.S.using

Click here to write your own.