The Elm Coulee field of the Williston Basin is a giant oil discovery in the middle Bakken Formation (Devonian–Mississippian) discovered in 2000. Horizontal drilling began in the field in 2000, and to date, more than 600 wells have been drilled. The estimated ultimate recovery for the field is more than 200 million bbl of oil (31.8 million m3).

The Bakken Formation in the field area consists of three members: (1) upper shale, (2) middle silty dolostone, and (3) lower siltstone. The total Bakken interval ranges in thickness from 10 to 50 ft (3.1 to 15.3 m) over the field area. The upper shale is dark-gray to black, hard, siliceous, slightly calcareous, pyritic, and fissile. The shale consists of dark organic kerogen, minor clay, silt-size quartz, and some calcite and dolomite. The kerogen consists mainly of amorphous material, and the organic material is distributed evenly throughout the shale interval (not concentrated in laminations or lenses). The upper shale ranges in thickness from 6 to 10 ft (1.8 to 3.1 m) over the field area. The middle member consists of a silty dolostone and ranges in thickness from 10 to 40 ft (3.1 to 12.2 m). The lower member in the Elm Coulee field consists of brownish-gray, argillaceous, organic-rich siltstone. Burrowing and brachiopod fragments are common in the lower member. This facies is equivalent to the lower Bakken black shale facies on the northern side of the field and is interpreted to be an updip-landward equivalent to the deeper-water, black shale facies. The lower member ranges in thickness from 2 to 6 ft (0.61 to 1.8 m). Based on the abundance of fossil content and amount of burrowing, the members of the Bakken Formation are interpreted to have been deposited under aerobic (middle member, common burrows, and rare fossils), dsyaerobic (lower member, common fossils, and lesser amount of burrows), and anaerobic conditions (upper member, rare fossils, and burrows).

The main reservoir in Elm Coulee field is the middle member, which has low matrix porosity and permeability and is found at depths of 8500 to 10,500 ft (2593 to 3203 m). The current field limits cover approximately 450 mi2 (1165 km2). The middle Bakken porosities range from 3 to 9%, and permeabilities average 0.04 md. Overall, the reservoir quality in the middle Bakken improves upward as the amount of clay matrix decreases. The middle Bakken is interpreted to be a dolomitized carbonate-shoal deposit based on subsurface mapping and dolomite lithology. The main production is interpreted to come from matrix permeability in the field area. Occasional vertical and horizontal fractures are noted in cores. The vertical pay ranges in thickness from 8 to 14 ft (2.4 to 4.3 m). The Bakken is slightly overpressured with a pressure gradient of 0.53 psi/ft (0.02 kPa/m). Horizontal wells are drilled on 640- to 1280-ac (259- to 518.4-ha) spacing units. Long single laterals, dual laterals, and trilaterals have all been drilled in the field. The horizontal intervals are sand-, gel-, and water-fracture stimulated. Initial production ranges from 200 to 1900 BOPD (31.8 to 302.1 m3/day). Initial potential rates for vertical wells are generally less than 100 BOPD (15.9 m3/day). The upper Bakken shale probably also contributes to the overall production in the field. The exact contribution is unknown but estimated to be less than 20% of the total production.

The Elm Coulee field illustrates that the Bakken petroleum system has enormous potential for future oil discoveries in the Williston Basin.

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