The Bakken Formation: Not Pristine, But No Drilling!

By July 8, 2008Energy

Columnist James Lileks of Minnesota asks an environmentalist signature-gatherer about energy development in North Dakota.

So . . . what’s the petition about?” He said that Congress had failed to renew the renewable energy tax credits, and they needed to be reinstated. I agreed that this was short-sighted, but decided not to get into all the usual hideous politics around that bill. I asked if his group was in favor of expanding all available energy sources, so we could be have baseload capacity to back up intermittent sources, like wind and solar.

“Baseload?” he said. He didn’t know the term.  I gave a rough definition; eyes glazed. Then I asked if his group was in favor of drilling in the Bakken oil fields.  He didn’t know about the Bakken oil fields.

“It’s in North Dakota,” I said.

“We’re opposed to drilling,” he said.

“In North Dakota?” I said.

“We’re opposed to drilling,” he repeated.

A few months ago I noted, in hardy-har jest, that people would oppose drilling in North Dakota because they feared its impact on the Bison, or the now-depopulated newly-pristine plains. Turns out they don’t need a reason. Nobody drill anywhere anyhow ever. I said what I’d said before, and will probably say the next time I engage in this act of total futility: if you guys were for everything, I’d be with you. We need to try everything. But he had turned cold by then.

The imperatives of the present are an inconvenient obstacle to heaven. The needs of the near future, even more so.

For a good discussion of the Bakken Formation, see this testimony to a U.S. Senate Budget Committee field hearing by Lyn Helms, director of the N.D. Industrial Commission Department of Mineral Resources. We need to get ready for the near future NOW.

The thermally mature portion of the middle Bakken member occupies over 8.4 million acres in western North Dakota. The current North Dakota drilling rig fleet is capable of developing 300,000 to 650,000 acres per year meaning full development could require 13 to 26 years. Full resource development could move North Dakota from number 8 to number 5 among US states in daily production. To achieve those production levels will require significant increases in pipeline, natural gas processing, electric generation and transmission, and refining capacity. Workforce needs will approach 12,000 new workers or over 8 new hires per day. These new workers and their families will need housing, medical facilities, schools, recreation facilities, and all of the other services expected by our modern culture.

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