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March 11, 2011 / J. Shaw

Billions of barrels of untapped U.S. oil

 In the grasslands of western North Dakota, one of the country’s richest oil men is using a controversial gas drilling technology to develop what could be the biggest domestic oil discovery in the last 40 years.

The oil lies underground in a shale rock formation stretching across western North Dakota, northeast Montana, and into Canada’s Saskatchewan Province known as the Bakken.

Thanks to hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” and high oil prices, oil production in the Bakken has exploded.

It went from a mere 3,000 barrels a day in 2005 to 225,000 in 2010, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration.

EIA thinks it will produce 350,000 barrels a day by 2035, but most analysts think that estimate is far too low.

According to Harold Hamm, president of the energy company Continental Resources, it could produce a million barrels a day by 2020.

That’s only a fraction of the 9.8 million barrels a day the country produces and an even smaller fraction of the 19.2 million it consumes, but it’s significant.

“This is a giant field,” said Hamm, a 65-year old self-made oil man whose parents were Oklahoma sharecroppers.


Today, Hamm’s wealth is estimated by Forbes to top $5 billion and he’s thought to own more oil and gas than any other American.

An American oil boom: Nationwide there are a handful of shale oil fields that could contain as much as 17 billion barrels of oil, according to a recent study from IHS CERA. That’s more than the country’s largest oil field, Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay.

“It’s going to have a major impact on the United States reducing imports,” Scott Sheffield, head of Pioneer Natural Resources Company, said Tuesday during a packed roundtable discussion on shale oil at CERA’s annual energy conference in Houston.

Sheffield estimates that with the new technology, the country could produce an extra 2 million barrels a day from both the Bakken and from shale oil trapped in existing traditional oil fields.

“If we get 2 million barrels a day, that could have a major impact on world oil prices,” said Guy Caruso, the former head of the EIA and now an advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The quarter-million barrels a day currently being produced from the Bakken is already partly responsible for the glut of oil seen in Cushing, Okla., one of the United States’ main oil storage and distribution hubs. The glut has helped distort U.S. oil prices in relation to the worldwide market.

It has also already contributed to a modest drop in foreign oil imports.

Plus it’s creating jobs.



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