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Category — U.S. Resources

The Mighty Bakken (Resourceship in action: II)

[Ed. note: North Dakota registered $25.3 billion in taxable economic activity 2012, a 29 percent increase from 2011. The major reason for this economic boom is described below.]

Any discussion of the revolution in U.S. upstream technology and its impact on the U.S. energy balance must include the Bakken play, centered in North Dakota but also reaching into Montana and Canada. It’s no wonder. It has raised North Dakota to the number two state after Texas in U.S. crude oil production.

Now at more than 700,000 barrels per day and still growing, North Dakota’s crude oil production accounts for 11 percent of the domestic total, and is contributing to the strongest economic growth and strongest employment of any state. Here we revisit the Bakken to fill in more details for the play that serves as the forerunner and icon of the tight oil revolution.

Geology & Geography

The Williston Basin is a large sedimentary basin that straddles the U.S./Canadian border and encompasses portions of northern South Dakota, western North Dakota, eastern Montana and northward into southern Saskatchewan. Over geologic time, many sedimentary layers accumulated in the greater Williston Basin. Among these layers are the Bakken Formation and several other significant and potentially emerging productive oil zones or formations. [Read more →]

June 14, 2013   3 Comments

The Imperishable Permian Basin: Growing at 90 (Resourceship in action: I)

“The Permian Basin is a story about combining the various talents of independents, majors, and service companies in using advancing technologies to sustain the lifespan of existing fields, to tap into zones that were previously uneconomic or inaccessible, and to increase the Permian’s proven reserves in a remarkable fashion.”

The Permian region, in western Texas and extending into southeastern New Mexico, has been one of North America’s major oil and natural gas producing regions for nearly a century. What makes the Permian stand out, besides its size, is its huge diversity. Rather than a single play, it is a collection of regional conventional and unconventional plays, producing from a variety of geological formations covering a wide area in more than a dozen productive formations.

Permian wells produce in depths ranging from a few hundred feet to tens of thousands of feet. While conventional exploration and production continues, horizontal drilling and multistage hydraulic fracturing (in both vertical and horizontal wells) are opening up a new, more unconventional chapter.

The Permian accounts for about two-thirds of crude oil production in Texas and nearly 15 percent of that of the entire U.S. It also accounts for more than a quarter of U.S. rig activity.


According to a 1995 assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Permian had more than 100 billion barrels of oil in place. The key, of course, is how much of that can be recovered commercially, a figure that has continued to grow with technological innovation. [Read more →]

May 17, 2013   5 Comments

U.S. Energy Innovation (Part II: Coal Issues)

“The technically recoverable coal resources in the United States are unsurpassed and total 50 percent of the world’s coal reserves. At 486 billion short tons, it can supply our country’s electricity demand for coal for almost 500 years at current usage rates.”

Coal produced on federal lands has decreased less than that of oil and natural gas. Coal production on federal and Indian lands peaked at 509 million short tons in fiscal year 2008 and has been decreasing slightly each year since then. In fiscal year 2011, coal sales from production on federal and Indian lands reached 470 million short tons, a 2-percent decrease from fiscal year 2010 and an 8-percent decrease since the peak in fiscal year 2008. [1]

At today’s prices, the value of the government’s estimated coal resources in the lower 48 states is $22.5 trillion for a total fossil fuel value on federal lands of $150.5 trillion. Most of the coal resources in Alaska are deemed to be federally owned and are estimated to be 60 percent higher than those in the entire lower-48 states but are not included in these estimates.

Over 90 percent of coal in the United States is used for electricity generation. Until recently, coal had been used to produce 50 percent of the nation’s electricity, but is losing market share to natural gas and renewable energy as natural gas prices drop, renewable energy is mandated and subsidized, and new environmental regulations take effect.

EPA vs. Improving Coal

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has produced regulations that essentially ban new coal plants and make its continued use in existing plants extremely costly. As a result, coal produced only 42 percent of our electricity in 2011 [2] and is expected to have produced only 38 percent in 2012. [3]

One of the biggest stated concerns about coal is air pollution. Coal produces more emissions than natural gas when burned. However, due to actions taken by industry and technological advances, our air quality is improving and new coal plants are cleaner than ever before. [Read more →]

February 7, 2013   4 Comments

U.S. Energy Innovation (Part I: Expanding “Depletable” Resources)

Ed. note: This three-part post series (Part II: Coal Issues tomorrow; Part III: Federal Lands Potention on Friday) is taken from testimony presented by Mary J. Hutzler on February 5, 2013, before the Subcommittee on Energy and Power, Committee on Energy and Commerce. The hearing was titled: American Energy Security and Innovation: An Assessment of North America’s Energy Resources. A summary of her remarks is here.

The United States has vast resources of oil, natural gas, and coal. In just a few short years, a forty-year paradigm that the U.S.  was energy poor has been reversed. The world’s mineral-energy resource base is enlarging, not depleting–and leading the way is the U.S. with private firms exploring and producing from private lands.

In December 2011, IER published a report entitled North American Energy Inventory that provides the magnitude of these resources for the United States, Canada, and Mexico. [1] As the report shows, the United States is vastly endowed in all three forms of organic fossil energy. In fact, the amount of technically recoverable oil in the United States totals almost 90 percent of the entire oil reserves in the world. [2]

Technically recoverable resources are not equivalent to reserves, but comparing their magnitudes provides a way to measure size. Technically recoverable resources are undiscovered resources that are recoverable with existing drilling and production technologies, but may not be economic at today’s prices. Reserves, on the other hand, are resources that are easily accessible and recoverable with today’s technology and at today’s oil prices. IER’s estimate of technically recoverable oil in the United States is 1,422 billion barrels.

That amount of oil can satisfy U.S. oil demand for 250 years at current usage rates or it can fuel every passenger car in the United States for 430 years. It is also more oil than the entire world has used in all human history.

The technically recoverable natural gas resources in the United States total 40 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves. At 2,744 trillion cubic feet, it can fuel natural gas demand in the United States for 175 years at current usage rates, or selectively, it can satisfy the nation’s residential demand for 857 years or the nation’s electricity demand for 575 years. [Read more →]

February 6, 2013   1 Comment