What are the environmental considerations of drilling in the Bakken Formation?

Environmental issues include:

  • land surface disturbance
  • the amount of water initially required to hydraulically fracture (or “frack”) the well
  • disposal of the poor-quality water produced with the oil
  • air pollution
  • groundwater contamination
  • oil spills
  • disruption of wildlife corridors

In many cases, particularly on private land, it is the state government that regulates the extraction of oil and the remediation of sites after production is no longer economic.

 

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What are the oil reserves in the Bakken Formation?

The USGS provides estimates of undiscovered, technically recoverable resources that have yet to be found (drilled), but if found, could be produced using currently available technology and industry practices. These estimates are based on knowledge about the geology of the area. In contrast, reserves are oil resources that are already discovered,...

How much oil and gas are actually in the Bakken Formation?

The USGS estimates that there may be 4.4 to 11.4 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil in the Bakken Formation (with a mean estimate of 7.4 billion barrels). These are estimates of oil that has yet to be found, but if found, could be produced using currently available technology and industry practices. Estimates are based on...

What are some of the difficulties of drilling in the Bakken Formation?

Traditional oil fields extract oil from rocks with relatively high porosity and permeability, so the oil flows out fairly easily. In contrast, the Bakken Formation is a relatively tight formation with low porosity and low permeability rock, from which oil flows with difficulty. To overcome this problem, wells in the Bakken Formation use a method...

What are "technically recoverable" oil and gas resources?

“Technically recoverable” means that the oil and/or gas can be produced using currently available technology and industry practices. This is regardless of any economic or accessibility considerations. For example, the technology required to produce oil from a location might exist, but it costs more than the oil is worth. The oil is still...

How much oil does the Bakken Formation produce and how does this compare to what the United States uses?

The USGS does not maintain statistics on oil production or oil consumption. Production information can be obtained from publicly available sources like the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources , and/or the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation . The U.S. Energy Information Administration provides information on oil...

Does the Bakken Formation contain more oil than Saudi Arabia?

Probably not. In 2000, the USGS assessed undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas in Saudi Arabia at 87 billion barrels ( USGS 2000 World Petroleum Assessment ) compared to a mean estimate of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil in the Bakken formation of 7.4 billion barrels. In addition, Saudi Arabia contains even more oil that has...
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Date published: February 12, 2019

Vegetation Recovery on Abandoned Oil and Gas Well Sites is Variable on Colorado Plateau

Recovery of vegetation on plugged and abandoned oil and gas well sites on the Colorado Plateau is influenced by time, moisture, nonnative plants and the type of plant community that was originally in place before well sites were constructed, according to a recently published study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Date published: February 7, 2017

New Scientific Approach Assesses Land Recovery Following Oil and Gas Drilling

A new scientific approach can now provide regional assessments of land recovery following oil and gas drilling activities, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Date published: May 9, 2016

Evidence of Unconventional Oil and Gas Wastewater Found in Surface Waters near Underground Injection Site

These are the first published studies to demonstrate water-quality impacts to a surface stream due to activities at an unconventional oil and gas wastewater deep well injection disposal site.

Date published: November 3, 2015

New Tool Rates Stream Vulnerability to Unconventional Oil and Gas Development

On average, streams in the Niobrara-Mowry Play of eastern Wyoming, Fayetteville Play of Arkansas, and Barnett Play of Texas ranked most vulnerable to unconventional oil and gas development, but for different reasons, according to recent U.S. Geological Survey coauthored research.

Date published: October 14, 2015

Birds in the Bakken: Oil Development Can Affect Critical Habitat

Many grassland bird species in the Bakken shale region, including some seriously declining populations, are displaced from their habitats as a result of oil and gas development, according to new U.S. Geological Survey research.

Date published: September 4, 2013

Disinfection of Energy Wastewater Can Lead to Toxic Byproducts

Wastewater treatment plants that process waters from oil and gas development were found to discharge elevated levels of toxic chemicals known as brominated disinfection byproducts, according to a new study by the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Oil and Gas1
December 31, 2016

Well Drill in the Bakken Formation near Williston

Water truck in background is providing maintenance water to a producing well drilled in the Bakken Formation near Williston, North Dakota. 

Oil and Gas 3
December 31, 2016

Bakken Well in North Dakota

Bakken well in North Dakota (Photograph by Joanna Thamke, USGS).

Image: Bakken Drilling
March 14, 2016

Bakken Drilling

Bakken drilling and completion activities at a well along Interstate-94, 6 miles east of Belfield, North Dakota.

Image: Bakken Drilling
March 14, 2016

Bakken Drilling

Bakken drilling and completion activities at a well along Interstate-94, 6 miles east of Belfield, North Dakota.

Image: Bakken Drill Rig
March 14, 2016

Bakken Drill Rig

A drill rig in the Bakken oil field in Stark County, western North Dakota. 

Image: USGS Scientist Researching  Bakken Formation Water Samples
August 20, 2013

USGS Scientist Researching Bakken Formation Water Samples

USGS scientist prepares to sample a domestic well in the Bakken Formation oil and gas production area of North Dakota.