Interior Department boosts estimates of oil-and-gas resources in North Dakota

A federal reassessment of oil-and-gas resources in North Dakota found the state holds twice as much shale oil — and three times as much gas — than was previously estimated.

Technological advancements have made the unconventional fossil fuels in North Dakota’s Three Forks formation “technically recoverable,” the Interior Department's United States Geological Survey (USGS) announced Tuesday.

And by rolling Three Forks into the Bakken shale formation, the region that spans North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana could now produce 7.4 billion barrels of oil, 6.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 0.53 billion barrels of natural gas liquids. 

Compared to 2008 estimates, that's triple the amount of shale gas and double the amount of shale oil that the region could yield. 

“These world-class formations contain even more energy resource potential than previously understood, which is important information as we continue to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign sources of oil,” Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellBiden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA declines to tighten key air pollution standards | Despite risks to polar bears, Trump pushes ahead with oil exploration in Arctic | Biden to champion climate action in 2021 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: EPA proposes reapproving uses of pesticide linked to brain damage in children | Hispanic caucus unhappy with transition team treatment of Lujan Grisham | Schwarzenegger backs Nichols to lead EPA MORE said in a statement.

Jewell stressed in a Tuesday media call that some of the reserves “may not be economically recoverable,” but that new technologies made it possible to tap the hydrocarbons.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is largely responsible for the U.S. domestic energy boom. The drilling method accesses “unconventional” fossil fuel deposits by injecting a high-pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into tight shale formations.

Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenGOP sees immigration as path to regain power The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults now eligible for COVID vaccines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - All US adults can get vaccine; decision Friday on J&J vax MORE (R-N.D.), an oil-and-gas industry supporter on Capitol Hill, lauded the estimate. He predicted it would draw more energy firms to the region.

“This new USGS study further confirms and reinforces the fact that the Williston Basin is a sustainable, long-term play warranting strong private-sector investment for decades into the future,” said Hoeven, who asked former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to reassess the area in 2011.

Republicans and some centrist Democrats have held up the Bakken region as a model for economic recovery. The formation is the epicenter of the U.S. domestic energy boom, bringing jobs and increased wages to area.

Those lawmakers have used the region’s success to press President Obama to expand oil-and-gas drilling on federal lands. They contend oil production has risen despite White House policies, noting a dip in output on federal lands under Obama.

The White House has resisted those calls, pointing to a jump in production during Obama’s tenure. And the most lucrative shale formations reside on state and private lands, the administration contends.

The Three Forks formation provides another example of a potentially profitable play on state land.

Brenda Pierce, energy program coordinator with USGS, said Tuesday that her department “routinely” reevaluates such formations. She said what is considered “technically recoverable” often changes.

Still, she said some of those reserves might never make it out of the ground.

“I don’t want people to think this is immediately consumable,” she said. “It’s pretty large, but it doesn’t compare to conventional reservoirs. … It’s more expensive. It takes more technology.”

— This story was updated at 12:51 p.m.