A review of the literature indicates that the stratigraphic and structural history of the oil-producing areas of North Dakota has been well documented. Approximately 92 percent of original oil in place that has been discovered has been in carbonate reservoirs, 70 percent in structural traps, and more than 90 percent in rocks of Paleozoic age. The Williston basin was an active structural element from mid-Ordovician time until at least Late Cretaceous time. Commercial production has been established from 13 separate formations in the Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Pennsylvanian, Triassic, and Cretaceous Systems. Approximately 20 percent of the fields produce from more than one formation. Sedimentary rocks range in thickness from approximately 1,000 ft (305 m) in the eastern part of the study area to more than 15,000 ft (4,570 m) in the deepest part of the basin, and carbonate rocks are the dominant type. Structures are of low relief and amounts of closure are small. Recovery rates exceed original estimates, and secondary recovery projects have been very successful. Much of the area is unexplored. A proper combination of good geologic information, structural data, and imagination should lead to the discovery of much more oil.
Figures & Tables
The geology of the entire United States, including the continental shelf and slope, was studied by petroleum geologists to determine its petroleum potential. Prospective areas of the 11 regions were assessed qualitatively and, usually, quantitatively.
The prospective basinal area covers approximately 3.2 million sq mi (statute; 8.3 million sq km) and contains approximately 6 million cu mi (25 million cu km) of sedimentary rock above basement or 30,000 ft (9,144 m). Other less prospective areas are, in the aggregate, large.
The prospective area has not been explored adequately. Many high-potential areas are indicated by the geology and extent of exploration, particularly in parts of Alaska, California, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming, and in parts of the offshore of Alaska, California, Louisiana, and Texas. The prospective Atlantic, Florida, and Alaska continental shelves, and the entire continental slope, barely have been touched by drilling, and other prospective areas and depths on land and the continental shelf remain largely unexplored.
Estimates of potential crude oil reserves of the basinal area only, exclusive of known reserves, range from 227 to 436 billion bbl of original oil in place. The potential probably exceeds the mean of 332 billion bbl. Approximately 32 percent of the oil in place would be recoverable at known rates of recovery. Ultimately, the rate of recovery may reach 60 percent.
Estimates of potential natural gas reserves exclusive of known reserves range from 595 to 1,227 trillion cu ft of recoverable natural gas. The gas potential also probably exceeds the mean of 911 trillion cu ft.
The ultimate petroleum potential of the United States, including known reserves, may exceed 432 billion bbl of crude oil, 1,543 trillion cu ft of natural gas, and 49 billion bbl of natural gas liquids.
Finding and developing the large petroleum potential will require a great amount of drilling because a significant percentage of the visualized undiscovered crude oil and natural gas is in stratigraphic traps, combination stratigraphic and structural traps, reefs, and complex structural situations. Estimates of future domestic demand call for accelerated exploration. To the extent that policies of industry and government militate against accelerated exploration, particularly drilling, a high percentage of the petroleum resources of the United States will not be reduced to possession.