The Three Forks-Sanish formation is made up of sand and porous rock directly below the Bakken shale. But geologists don't know whether the Three Forks-Sanish is a separate oil-producing formation or if it catches oil that flows from the Bakken shale above.
Fort Worth, Texas-based XTO Energy Inc. has reported to the state that one of its Three Forks wells pulled more than 2,100 barrels a day. An ETO Energy spokeswoman said the company does not comment on its operations publicly.
State and industry officials are conducting a study to determine whether the Three Forks is a unique reservoir. The plan is to compare results from closely spaced wells, one aiming for the Three Forks, and the other at the Bakken. Researchers will look at pressure changes in the formations to determine if they are connected.
Results from the study could be ready later this year, officials say. It already is spurring some speculation that the state has billions of barrels more in oil reserves.
"Eventually it could equal the Bakken, which is remarkable, and that's an understatement," Helms said.
"Is it the same or is it a separate formation? I think everybody is hoping for the latter," Harms said. "That could literally double the potential we have — a Bakken 2, if you will."
Kelso, of Whiting Petroleum, said his company's drilling activity shows that Three Forks likely is a separate formation. He said core samples taken from the Bakken and Three Forks show more hydrocarbons in the latter.
"From the core samples, Three Forks looks better for us than the Bakken," he said.
Promising production results from the Three Forks could mean that companies that come up empty in the Bakken could use existing leases to drill in the same area for Three Forks oil.
In regards to the Bakken, the latest production statistics I've crawled upon were posted in an article by Platts, stating production was at 202,000 bpd in June, thus making N Dakota the nation's fifth-largest oil producer. For a little memory recap, let's consider an assessment performed by the Oil Drum last year:
If total production amounts to only 500 million barrels, as I have suggested, this would equate to about 23 days worth of United States oil usage, spread over many, many years.
Looking at future production another way, the recent peak in production has been 75,000 barrels of oil per day (discussed in more detail below). Even if operators are able to triple this amount, the resulting production of 225,000 barrels a day (which would be a considerable challenge), will amount to only about 1.1% of US oil consumption, assuming the US uses about 20.7 barrels of oil a day, based on EIA data.
If we can reach 225,000 barrels of oil per day, the history of Bakken suggest this level would be short-lived - the peak production will probably last for a year or less - because as we shall see below, total Bakken production can be expected to decline to 50% or less of its peak rate within a few years, because of the steep decline rate of individual wells.
The 202,000 bpd production is N Dakota's share alone; the Bakken Formation stretches into Montana and Saskatchewan. Although production statistics of the two territories have not been found, it seems safe to assert 24,000 bpd has been squeezed between the two, and the Drum's bumbling forecast has turned out naught. Even if Bakken's ultimate production turns out modest - say, 400,00 bpd - this will still incinerate the Drum's seasoned forecasters; and now, it seems, Bakken has a big sibling.