Occupying more than 200,000 square miles in the northern United States and Canada, the Bakken shale region is currently proving itself to be one of the biggest oil production resources in North America. Oil reserves in the Bakken Shale region are believed to rival those in Saudi Arabia. Oil was originally discovered in North Dakota in the 1950s, and the area boomed again in the 1980s. Particularly in the northwestern corner of the state, the Bakken Shale yield has created a new boom that is changing the face of the local job market and economy.
While vertical oil wells were able to tap into some of the energy resources located in the Bakken Shale region, horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technologies have brought some of the Bakken Shale’s true potential to light and are bringing oil companies flocking to the area. Other industries are following closely on their shirttails, and with good reason. The boom this technology has created is more than five times the size of the original boom that employed vertical drilling technology. This is only expected to get bigger.
Drilling companies believe that this new phase of oil development is only the beginning and are working to develop new technology for an even greater return on their investments. They have flocked to North Dakota, adding more rigs and spiking production even higher. Most of the extraction efforts have settled on Dunn, McKenzie, Mountrail and Williams counties, with more than 7,500 wells capable of producing in these counties alone. This accounts for about 85 percent of current production, with nearly 4,000 rigs scattered throughout the other thirteen counties of North Dakota, as well. As new extraction technology is developed, production potential is likely to change and grow across the Bakken Shale region to include areas previously not considered accessible.
Although an unusually cold winter has had a slowing effect on production, as spring approaches, rigs are back up to average rates of production with hopes of climbing higher in the near future. Many companies are hoping that technological advances will increase recovery rates and reduce drilling costs as they determine which areas of the Bakken Shale region are best for expansion in the future.
Meanwhile, job opportunities in the Bakken Shale region are drawing workers from all over the country. Demand is higher than supply, and some infer that North Dakota’s industry growth has been hampered by a shortage of workers rather than the lack of jobs plaguing the rest of the country in the past several years. The outlook on the economy and job opportunities in North Dakota continues to be the best in the nation, with people in many industries flocking to the area to take advantage of the potential. Real estate, in particular, is doing well, as well as healthcare, retail businesses, restaurants, and the hotel business. In fact, the number of hotel rooms in the busiest areas has tripled to meet the demand of the influx.
The areas that have the largest population growth are desperately in need of a basic infrastructure to support the growth. Roads, power lines, and water systems for the workers are needed in addition to the systems needed to refine, store, and transport the oil. With so many opportunities, the Bakken Shale region may be the key to the end of the nation’s economic recession.