Hoeven and Interior Secretary Salazar Meet: USGS To Reassess Williston Basin Reserves

Senator Believes Study Will Attract Infrastructure Investment, Support Services to Western ND

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today said U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar has agreed to the Senator’s request to update estimates of recoverable oil reserves in the Williston Basin to generate a long-term outlook for production potential and infrastructure investment in the region. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which is administered by the U.S. Interior Department, now plans to begin the study in October, and expects to complete it in one to two years.  

Hoeven initially contacted Brenda Pierce, Coordinator for the Energy Resources Program at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), to do the new study last year, and followed up with Secretary Salazar in early March at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which Hoeven serves.  

Following the hearing, the Senator organized a meeting of the U.S. Geological Survey; city, state and county officials; and oil industry leaders in Bismarck to bring industry, community and agency leaders together. Brenda Pierce, Coordinator for the Energy Resources Program at the USGS, and other geologists and engineers from her staff were on hand at the Bismarck meeting to hear evidence from oil producers regarding the need, value and timeliness of a new, updated study.  

After a second hearing this week, Hoeven and Salazar again discussed the study request. At a meeting this morning in the Senator’s office, Secretary Salazar told Hoeven the agency would move forward with the study.  

“I want to express my sincere thanks to the Secretary for his willingness to follow up on our request for an update of recoverable reserves in the Williston Basin,” Hoeven said. “We appreciate the way he and his staff have responded, including Brenda Pierce, who was committed to following through on a matter that’s important to North Dakota and the nation.” 

Throughout the dialogue with the Secretary and agency officials, Hoeven made the case that technological advances have significantly increased the amount of oil that is recoverable in western North Dakota, and he has worked with the agency and industry to provide information showing that a new study is warranted.  

“An updated USGS survey will be critical to attract infrastructure investment for housing, hotels, retail stores and service companies to growing communities in western North Dakota by confirming, with good data, that the Williston Basin is a sustainable, long-term play warranting substantial private investment,” Hoeven said. “Solid data will strengthen confidence in the long-term potential of the area and help to attract new investments in community infrastructure throughout western North Dakota. 

“We must develop our resources armed with the best science available, and there is now significant new geological information,” Salazar said. “With ever-advancing production technologies, this could mean more oil could potentially be recovered in the formation to contribute to our nation’s comprehensive energy portfolio.”  

Hoeven also noted that the timing for the study is appropriate considering rising gas prices and the need for more domestic production. 

“At the same time, increased domestic production of oil and gas can help us to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and keep down the cost of gasoline and diesel at the pump for consumers,” Hoeven said. “We need to approach that in a thoughtful, balanced fashion that helps communities grow in a positive, constructive way.”  

Seven companies producing oil in North Dakota have already provided data to the USGS about the latest technologies and recovery rates in the Williston Basin, including XTO Energy; Continental Oil; Cornerstone Energy Resources; Marathon Oil; United Energy Corporation; and Sinclair Oil Corporation. Whiting Oil and Gas will be presenting technical data to the USGS in Denver. The North Dakota Division of Mineral Resources also shared geological data with the USGS.  

The last USGS study, released in April 2008, identified 3.65 billion recoverable barrels of oil in the Bakken formation with far more oil than that in place. Many companies operating in North Dakota have expressed to the Senator their belief that there are significantly more recoverable reserves. In order to warrant a revised study, the USGS needs current data from oil companies operating in the Williston Basin regarding their production curves, recovery rates, the new technologies they are employing and any new geological analyses available.