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Bakken Reality Check

David Hughes

October 7, 2015

The Nation’s Number Two Tight Oil Play After a Year of Low Oil Prices

The Bakken Play, located in North Dakota and Montana, is the birthplace of tight (shale) oil and in many ways the poster child of the so-called “shale revolution.” Between 2010 and 2014, oil production in North Dakota grew nearly five-fold, from 236,000 barrels/day in January 2010 to over 1,167,000 barrels/day in January 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), which every year publishes its Annual Energy Outlook (AEO).

The EIA forecast this production growth to continue and — despite thousands of wells having already been drilled in the most productive areas of the play, and the steep decline in oil prices in 2014 — even raised its projection in 2015 for the total amount of tight oil produced in the Bakken through 2040 by 85% over the previous year’s forecast.

In Bakken Reality Check, David Hughes, author of Drilling Deeper (which likely remains the most thorough independent analysis of U.S. shale gas and tight oil production ever conducted) and a number of other reports on North American shale gas and tight oil production, looks at how production in the Bakken has changed after a year of low oil prices.

Oil production in the Bakken Play is now falling after more than a year of low oil prices—but it has proven more resilient than many observers expected. This paper reviews the latest developments in the Bakken Play and provides an update of the assessment in Drilling Deeper, which was published in October 2014 just as the turmoil in the oil markets began.


About the Author

hughes-thumbJ. David Hughes is an earth scientist who has studied the energy resources of Canada for nearly four decades, including 32 years with the Geological Survey of Canada as a scientist and research manager. He developed the National Coal Inventory to determine the availability and environmental constraints associated with Canada’s coal resources.

As Team Leader for Unconventional Gas on the Canadian Gas Potential Committee, he coordinated the recent publication of a comprehensive assessment of Canada’s unconventional natural gas potential. Over the past decade, he has researched, published and lectured widely on global energy and sustainability issues in North America and internationally.

He is a board member of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas – Canada and is a Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute. He recently contributed to Carbon Shift, an anthology edited by Thomas Homer-Dixon on the twin issues of peak energy and climate change, and his work has been featured in Nature, Canadian Business, and other journals, as well as through the popular press, radio, television and the internet. He is currently president of a consultancy dedicated to research on energy and sustainability issues.