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Williston Basin Resources

From left, Dave Ozman and Walter Guidroz, of the U.S. Geological Survey, Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND, and Ron Ness and Kathy Nesset representing the North Dakota Petroleum Council, discuss an update of the oil and gas estimate for the Williston Basin, Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

BISMARCK, N.D. — A federal estimate of recoverable oil in North Dakota and the surrounding area needs to factor in more geologic formations and rapidly advancing technology, state and energy industry officials said Wednesday.

The U.S. Geological Survey has begun updating its estimate of recoverable oil and gas resources in the Williston Basin in North Dakota, eastern Montana and northwestern South Dakota. It expects to wrap up the effort by the end of the year, Energy Resource Program Coordinator Walter Guidroz said during a meeting with the officials to map out the best strategy for compiling the new estimate.

The USGS in 2013 estimated 7.4 billion barrels of oil could be recovered from the basin's Bakken and underlying Three Forks shale formations, which encompass about 25,000 square miles within the Williston Basin. However, there are 17 other, smaller geologic formations that also show "significant" potential with new drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology, according to state Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms. Five have already been studied by state officials.

"They've identified maybe a billion barrels of oil potential," Helms said.

North Dakota is already the nation's second-leading producer of crude behind Texas, accounting for about 12 percent of U.S. production. The state saw record production in January of 1.4 million barrels daily. Almost all of that came from the Bakken and Three Forks, where technology advancements are enabling companies to extract more oil "than we ever thought possible," Continental Resources Geologic Manager Tony Moss said.

"We've completely replaced our top 10 (producing) wells within about the last year and a half," he said. "We're really just getting to the point where we feel like we're really starting to optimize development."

Continental estimates as much as 40 billion barrels of recoverable oil from the Bakken and Three Forks alone.

Sen. John Hoeven and industry officials asked the USGS in September 2017 for a new federal assessment, saying it could show stronger production potential.

"We have to continue to attract capital and investment not only to produce the resource but to get all the infrastructure we need to do it right," Hoeven said Wednesday, detailing a laundry list of needs including pipelines, processing plants, roads, bridges, houses, stores and bigger airports.

The USGS in December 2017 committed to a study, which Guidroz said is now in the initial stages. There is no set budget for the study, he said.

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