The History of the Bakken Formation

The Bakken formation is a rock unit occupying 200,000 square miles of the Montana, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan regions.  The formation was initially described by geologist J.W. Nordquist in 1952 and named after Henry Bakken, the landowner of the plot where the formation was first discovered.  Oil has been produced from the Bakken for over 50 years, first from a few simple vertical wells.  With advances in oil drilling technology, the Bakken is now one of the United States’ highest producing hydrocarbon formations through the use of horizontal wells and hydraulic fracturing technology.

The Bakken is among several hydrocarbon producing formations in an area known as the Williston Basin. The Bakken itself overlies the Wabumun Formation, Big Valley Formation, and the Torquay Formation.  A unit of the Three Forks Group, the Bakken reaches a maximum thickness of approximate 150 ft and sits thousands of feet below the surface.  The Bakken was formed nearly 360 million years ago in the Mississippian and Devonian systems.

The United States Geological Survey reported in 2008 that the amount of recoverable oil within the Bakken formation was in the area of 3.65 billion barrels.  With technological advances in rock fracturing existing today, most industry insiders believe the numbers in the 2008 geological survey to be low, with the actual recoverable estimates above the USGS’ high estimate of 4.3 billion barrels (BBbls).  The most recent estimate places the total reserve recoverable reserve closer to 24 billion barrels, taking into account the combined use of horizontal drilling, and fracking.

The USGS has stated in no unclear terms that the Bakken formation makes up the largest estimate of technically recoverable oil in the continental United States.  The affects of the Bakken will have continue to have monumental positive effects on the US oil industry, as well as the economies of the territories it sits on.  As the availability of rigs and crews increases, so too will the Bakken’s ability to produce oil, stimulate the economy, and promote job growth.


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The oil & gas industry has had a positive effect on Montana's economy. You can click on the infographic to learn more.

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