"The Bakken is an oil play
that has erupted across a forgotten corner of the U.S. It is a frenzy of
drilling and pumping and moneymaking. It is also a place where a new
energy future is emerging, one that holds the promise of ending U.S.
dependence on overseas oil and kick-starting the country’s stagnant
economy. Government estimates suggest it could yield 4.3 billion barrels
of oil. One industry estimate is five times higher, which would mean
the Bakken alone could hold as much recoverable oil as the rest of the
country. And it’s just the beginning.
The flares lit in the
Bakken, a so-called “tight oil” play enabled by a revolution in drilling
technology, are spreading rapidly across the continent. Suddenly,
geologists and drillers are discovering that what works in the Bakken
works in a lot of other places, too, bringing forth sudden new volumes
of oil – and optimism that there will be much more – in Texas, in Utah,
in Ohio, in Saskatchewan and in Alberta. In all, 14 places are being
explored for tight oil.
All those drills turning in all those places have sweeping ramifications for North America.
Bakken and its followers have fundamentally altered the energy outlook
for the continent. If energy consultant IHS CERA is right, in the span
of merely one decade, tight oil wells will pump more oil than the entire
oil sands. The growth is so globally significant that the firm has
reduced its 2020 world oil price estimate down from $120 to $100 a
barrel. And it’s begun contemplating possibilities that would have been
considered insane only a few years ago.
Tight oil also stands to
have a substantial economic impact. The enormous cost of drilling tens
of thousands of wells – which can run $10 million each, not
including the cost of acquiring land – will pour hundreds of billions
into domestic wages and manufacturing. The fact that Americans will be
buying U.S. gas at the pumps will also have a meaningful impact on the
dollars the country sends abroad every year.
“There might be some possibility that we could ... pretty much reduce our oil imports
to zero,” said Leta Smith, director of oil and gas supply outlooks with
IHS CERA. “That’s a really optimistic case. And that’s not what we’re
forecasting right now. But still, it’s an interesting question to
The sun that shines on the Bakken, it seems, is shining on America itself."