The Bakken Shale is one of the biggest oil finds in the United States over the past several decades and plays a large role in the U.S. inching closer to true energy independence. Stretching across Montana and North Dakota, the Bakken Shale has attracted the exploration and production efforts of many prominent energy companies.

The Bakken Shale was first discovered more than 60 years ago, but the oil wasn't commercially viable on a large scale until the 21st century. That's due to rapid technological advancements in the last few years which have made previously, hard-to-reach sources of energy suddenly obtainable. Read on to find out why the Bakken Shale is such a high priority for several U.S. energy companies, and why their future profits should be extremely strong as a result.

A modern-day gold rush
Many U.S. energy companies are flocking to the Bakken Shale, and for good reason. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects total oil output in the region to reach 1 million barrels per day as early as next month. This would make the Bakken play only the fourth in the United States to hit the 1 million barrels per day mark. The amount of oil available in the Bakken Shale is truly tremendous: the region itself now accounts for more than 10% of total U.S. oil production, and production growth there has been huge. Consider that the Bakken Shale was producing just 200,000 barrels per day in 2009.

Not surprisingly, all this oil has caught the attention of many energy companies, who will be rewarded with years of profits for their efforts. Hess Corp. (NYSE:HES) stands to win big from the Bakken boom since Hess is the third-largest oil producer in North Dakota. Hess recently grew production from its own Bakken operations by 14%, to 71,000 barrels of oil equivalents per day, with plenty of further room for growth. Going forward, Hess plans to continue reaping strong production from the Bakken Shale: the company has brought 122 new wells online year to date.

Ditto for EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG), which has ambitious growth plans thanks in large part to the Bakken play. EOG generated 10% growth in total production in 2012, and expects full-year 2013 production to increase another 9%. And, from 2014 through 2017, EOG Resources projects double-digit production growth in crude oil.

Much of this growth is due to the company's focus on the Bakken region. In the Bakken core area, EOG holds 90,000 net acres, and average 30-day oil production has surged 50% year-to-date to more than 1,300 barrels per day. In all, EOG plans to complete 54 wells in 2013, so it's clear that the Bakken Shale will provide years of profits for the company.

Of course, no discussion of the Bakken field is complete without mentioning Kodiak Oil & Gas Corp. (NYSE:KOG), which has devoted huge resources into development there. A substantial portion of Kodiak's $800 million in year-to-date capital expenditures is allocated to the Bakken play. These funds will be utilized to complete an expected, 75 new wells, on top of the 62 wells completed last year. As of the beginning of the year, estimated proved reserves were 95 million barrels of oil equivalent with a projected pre-tax value of nearly $2 billion. Kodiak's results so far this year demonstrate that this strategy is working in its favor. Oil and gas production has more than doubled over the first nine months of the year.

Consider these three companies as a play on Bakken shale
Production of oil and gas in the United States proceeds full steam ahead, and it's thanks in large part to the promise of the Bakken region in Montana and North Dakota. Hess, EOG, and Kodiak are investing heavily in the region, and will reap many years of profits down the road as a result. Even their near-term results are already starting to show the benefits.

As a result, investors should feel confident that Hess, EOG, and Kodiak will continue to show strong increases in production and profits. That's why it's extremely likely each of these companies has a bright future ahead.

One of these producers is helping lead U.S. energy boom

Bob Ciura has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of EOG Resources. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.