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Three Forks study targets McKenzie County wells

Posted 9/25/13 (Wed)

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

The recent discovery that wells drilled in northeastern McKenzie County have an initial production that is five times the amount of an average Bakken well has caught the attention of the oil and gas industry as well as the state of North Dakota.
“An average Bakken well has an initial production, or starts on day one, producing generally 1,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd),” states Lynn Helms, director of Mineral Resources for the North Dakota Industrial Commission. “Wells that are produced in northeastern McKenzie County, have an initial production of roughly 5,000 bpd.”
To discover what makes this area so special, and to develop a more complete computer model of the Bakken and Three Forks Formations, a data compilation effort, called the Geothermal Gradient Study, is being conducted by the Department of Mineral Resources in northeast McKenzie County.
According to Helms, the area in northeastern McKenzie County happens to be the deepest part of the Williston Basin. It is the hottest and its layers are the thickest, which is why it has been targeted for this study.
The Geothermal Gradient Study has also targeted a high thermal gradient in eastern Bottineau and eastern Rolette counties, as well as around Bismarck, for similar reasons.
“These areas have abnormally high temperature and pressure,” states Helms.
But there is more to it than that. Helms states that the study looks at all the layers, when they were deposited, where they eroded to, how much they have been heated, whether they are buried to a certain depth, the amount of time over which this has occurred, and the amount of carbon that is being produced.
Studying all these factors, according to Helms, will help the Department of Mineral Resources obtain a more complete computer model of the geology that makes up the Bakken and Three Forks formations. In addition, Helms hopes the study will give insight into why these areas are so hot and why the wells being drilled in these areas have such a high initial production compared to the wells drilled in other areas.
While studying temperature gradients and collecting data may not seem exciting in the here and now, Helms states that 10 to 20 years down the road, the study’s findings could have huge implications.
“When Lee Price’s study of the Bakken Formation was published in 1998, it took eight years before it really caught hold and brought all the drilling to the state,” states Helms. “This is the same type of work we are talking about. What can the oil and gas industry look at in 10 to 20 years?”
“People already know the Bakken and Three Forks formations are good,” states Helms. “But the data obtained through this study could lead to the discovery of other formations. And, with new technology being created all the time, who knows what can be done in 20 years?”
At this point, only the Department of Mineral Resources and the North Dakota Geological Survey are participating in the study. But Helms states that certain players in the oil and gas industry may soon be involved as well.
“We have asked the industry to let us use their idle well bores (old vertical wells that have been idle for a few years) for the study,” states Helms. “That is because the most ideal research spot for this kind of study is a hole in the ground that has not been disturbed in some time.”
Helms states that the study has identified 12 points to gather data, and the Department of Mineral Resources will soon compile a list of companies that will be contributing to that process.
The study is the result of a request made by the North Dakota Petroleum Conference during the last legislative session. According to Helms, money was given by the state toward the Geothermal Gradient Study.
The study received funding on July 1, and will likely take six to eight years to complete.