The Bakken Shale is geological formation stretching over 200,000 square miles of the subsurface of the Williston Basin, which spans parts of Montana, North Dakota, Sasketchawan, and Manitoba. This area has recently grown exponentially into become one of the most important sources of new oil production in the entire United States. In fact, as of 2013, the Bakken Shale accounted for over 10% of all US oil production and by 2014 production had exceeded 1 million barrels per day in Montana and North Dakota alone. This recent surge has launched North Dakota into becoming the second largest oil-producing state in the US with only Texas ahead of it.
The formation was initially found by geologist J.W. Nordquist in 1953, and named after farmer Henry Bakken, who owned the land where it was first discovered. While oil was first discovered here as back as 1951, recovering significant amounts has been difficult as the technology to efficiently harvest the oil simply didn’t exist until recently. The invention and application of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is what made using the Bakken Shale feasible and profitable. It’s estimated that the area holds an incredible 400 billion barrels of oil and Continental Resources, one of the major companies currently working the site, estimates that the Bakken Shale could yield anywhere from 24-40 billion barrels.
It’s not just Continental Resources that is currently working in the area either. The first major breakthrough at the site was a horizontal well drilled in the Elm Coulee Field by a partnership between Lyco Energy and Halliburton. The success of this well incited the current boom and now there are over 37 small, medium, and major companies currently conducting operations here, including US Energy, ExxonMobil, Hess, Marathon Oil, and ConocoPhillips.
All of this has meant an incredible economic boom for the economies of the towns and cities near the Bakken Shale. The counties closest to the main operational area such has Wilson, Dickson, and Minot counties in North Dakota have seen the average wage spike to 140% and unemployment plummet to less than 2%. This, coupled with the fact there there is a constant influx of workers means that more money is being funneled into the local economies than ever before.