Scientists Confirm U.S. Has World’s Biggest Oil Reserves

By Pat Shannan

It has been more than a year since the Department of Interior announced that North Dakota and Montana have an estimated 3 to 4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil in an area known as the Bakken Formation, but little is being done about it.

The April 2008, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) assessment shows a 25-fold increase in the amount of oil that can be recovered compared to the agency’s 1995 estimate of a paltry 151 million barrels of oil. That would be 3,775 million (or 3.775 billion) barrels. New geologic models applied to the Bakken Formation, advances in drilling and production technologies, and recent oil discoveries have resulted in these substantially larger oil volumes.

The USGS Bakken study was undertaken as part of a nationwide project assessing domestic petroleum basins using standardized methodology and protocol as required by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 2000, yet only 105 million barrels of oil had been produced from the Bakken Formation by the end of 2007.

At the time of the assessment, a limited number of wells have produced oil from three of the assessments units (AUs) in Central Basin-Poplar Dome, Eastern Expulsion Threshold and Northwest Expulsion Threshold. The Elm Coulee oil field in Montana, discovered in 2000, has produced about 65 million barrels of the 105 million barrels of oil recovered from the Bakken Formation.

The Bakken Formation estimate is larger than all other current USGS oil assessments of the “Lower 48” states and is the largest continuous oil accumulation ever assessed by the USGS. A “continuous” oil accumulation means that the oil resource is dispersed throughout a geologic formation rather than existing as discrete, localized occurrences. The next largest continuous oil accumulation in the U.S. is in the Austin Chalk of Texas and Louisiana, with an undiscovered estimate of 1 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil.

By tapping these domestic resources, rather than remaining dependent upon foreign sources, America could drastically reduce its cost of home heating and vehicular travel.

Technically recoverable oil resources are those producible using currently available technology and industry practices. USGS is the only provider of publicly available estimates of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources.

“It is clear that the Bakken formation contains a significant amount of oil—the question is, how much of that oil is recoverable using today’s technology?” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) “To get an answer to this important question, I requested that the U.S. Geological Survey complete this study, which will provide an up-to-date estimate on the amount of technically recoverable oil resources in the Bakken Shale Formation.”

Scientists conducted detailed studies in stratigraphy and structural geology and the modeling of petroleum geochemistry. They also combined their findings with exploration and production analyses to determine the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil estimates.

USGS worked with the North Dakota Geological Survey, a number of petroleum industry companies and independent, universities and other experts to develop a geological understanding of the Bakken Formation. These groups provided critical information for models used in the assessment.

“This sizable find is now the highest producing onshore oil field found in the past 56 years,” said The Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

James Bartis, leading researcher with the study, says America has more oil in this one compact area than the entire Middle East. And the stunning news is that we have more oil inside our borders than all the other proven reserves on Earth, and that it could be extracted at an approximate cost to Americans of only $16 a barrel.

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