Summary: The euphoria about this is nonsense. The Bakken Formation was discovered in 1953; production started in 2000. The USGS report will discuss the recoverable resources, which are important. But the key questions concern the maximum flows produced and the cost of production — which answer make this just another unconventional source, of marginal significance in the peak oil calculations.
As usual, the internet can make us dumber or smarter — depending on how we use it.
Example of good reporting: “Report on Bakken oil potential expected“, Business Week (7 April 2008)
Clear statement of the issues from the North Dakota state website: Bakken Formation Reserve Estimates.
The paper that started the discussion: “Origins and Characteristics of the Basin-Centered Continuous Reservoir Unconventional Oil-Resource Base of the Bakken Source System, Williston Basin”, Leigh Price (1999/2000) — Price estimated the Bakken formation may hold as many as 900 billion barrels of oil. He died in 2000; the study was never peer reviewed or published. Here is a link to the paper.
Update: The USGS pricked the balloon. For a retrospective see The Internet makes us dumber: the Bakken euphoria, a case study.
Many unconventional resources have large reserves. Examples are Venezuela’s heavy oil, Canada’s bitumen (aka “oil sands”), the NW US kerogen (aka “oil shale”), the estimated natural gas and oil in the polar regions, and the Bakken Formation. The aggregate reserves of these are immense.
From the Business Week article about the Bakken Formation, which expains how this is a unconventional resource:
“The oil is trapped in microscopic pores of rock, and to capture it, most companies “fracture stimulate” horizontal wells by forcing pressurized fluid and sand to break pores in the rock and prop them open to recover oil.”
Unconventional sources differ from conventional petroleum in two ways. First, their extraction costs — either initial capital outlays or operating costs (or both) — are usually far higher. Second, their production flows are lower. Not like the massive flows from the great Texas and Saudi Arabian fields.
For example, by 2020 Canada’s bitumen mining *might* produce 5 million barrels/day — after tens of billions of capital costs, with incalculable costs to Alberta’s environment (much of it will look like the moon). That assumes sufficient water and natural gas inputs, both of which might be insufficient (nukes have been suggested as alternatives to the nat gas). But that will not nearly offset the natural depletion of other N. American fields, let alone replace the eventual peaking of the supergiant fields like Cantarell in Mexico or Gwahir in Saudi Arabia.
Another distinction between conventional and unconventional petroleum: the latter often require far larger inputs of energy for their extraction and refining than conventional sources. For example: heavy oil, bitumen, kerogen — all must be mined, heated, and hydrogenated to produce useful products. The Bakken Formation requires high pressure injections to fracture the rock so that the oil will flow.
These sources are valuable, and will increasingly represent the remaining global oil reserves. But neither their flows nor costs can be compared to the ample and cheap conventional fields now being sucked dry. That is the missing element in their euphoric stories.
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Posts about the Internet: does it make us smarter or dumber?
- Cable Cut Fever grips the conspiracy-hungry fringes of the web, 7 February 2008
- Resolution of the Great Submarine Cable Crisis — and some lessons learned, 8 February 2008
- What do blogs do for America?, 26 February 2008
- The oddity of reports about the Iraq War, 13 March 2008
- Euphoria about the Bakken Formation, 10 April 2008
- The Internet makes us dumber: the Bakken euphoria, a case study, 15 April 2008
- Does reading Debkafile make us smarter, or dumber? , 15 June 2008
- A Congressman ignites a netstorm about Twitter, 9 July 2008
Posts about rumors of a US armada sailing to blocade Iran
- More rumors of war: our naval armada has sailed to Iran!, 9 August 2008 — Tracing the origin of these rumors.
- Update on the rumored armada sailing to Iran, 13 August 2008 — With updates from Stratfor and Debkafile.
- A US naval armada is en route to blockade Iran and start WWIII (the story gets better every day), 14 August 2008 — More details from one of the bloggers who shot this story into cyberspace, and an official US denial.
- UPI reports on the multi-national armada sailing to Iran, 15 August 2008
- Stop the presses: no naval armada has sailed to blockade Iran!, 20 August 2008