How Long Can the Good Times in the Bakken Last?

Oil production in the Bakken continues to rise, but can the good times in North Dakota continue?

Mar 10, 2014 at 12:48PM

Which city is the most expensive city to rent an entry level apartment in the United States? If you guessed New York City or San Francisco, you would be incorrect. 

The most expensive city to rent an entry level apartment in United States is actually Williston, North Dakota. According to a study done by Apartment Guide, the city had an average monthly cost of $2,394 to rent a one bedroom, 700 square foot home, or $500 more than second place San Jose.

Williston rent is very expensive because the good times are still flowing in Bakken. Oil production in the basin just keeps on increasing. 

Bakken oil production recently passed the million-barrels-per-day mark, more than OPEC nation Qatar.

New

Source:Energy Information Agency

The increased oil production has also been a boon for Bakken oil producers, such as Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR), Whiting Petroleum (NYSE:WLL), and Oasis Petroleum (NYSE:OAS)

The three companies have seen their profits and stock prices rise dramatically. Can the good times last?

Big opportunity 
The Bakken is primarily a shale play. Shale oil wells run out fast, though -- many shale wells see a 70% production decline in the first year. This is in stark contrast to traditional oil fields, which typically deplete between 6% to 10% a year. Even though production rates are increasing dramatically, they may fall off just as quickly sometime down the road. 

There are some signs that a production reversal may not happen anytime soon, however. For one thing, the absolute size of the opportunity just keeps on getting bigger. Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey increased its estimate of total Bakken oil from 570 billion barrels to 900 billion barrels. 

Continental Resources President Rick Bott estimates that of the 900 billion barrels, around 3.5% of the total oil (or 32 billion barrels) is currently recoverable. 32 billion barrels would be 87 years' worth of oil, assuming Bakken producers produce at a rate of 1 million barrels a day. Because of advances in technology, however, the percentage recoverable may increase.

Figure

Source:Energy Information Agency

Ten years ago, very few people thought the Bakken had any potential at all. Geologists knew shale had a lot of oil, but the technology just wasn't there. Now, because of the advances in horizontal drilling and fracking, the Bakken is a modern day black gold rush. Oil production in the Bakken has increased more than 10-fold since 2004. 

There is no reason to think that technology will not unlock more of that opportunity as time goes on.

The bottom line
So far, the good times don't seem like they're ending anytime soon. If anything, oil producers in the Bakken suffer from a glut of oil and gas. 27% of Bakken natural gas is flared because it is uneconomical to market it. 75% of Bakken oil travels by rail rather than more efficient and cheaper pipelines. Because of the glut caused by inadequate infrastructure, Bakken oil trades at a lower price than WTI, the U.S. benchmark for oil.

One day, oil wells in the Bakken will run dry. Bakken oil companies such as Continental Resources will probably have diversified to other shale plays before that time. Until Bakken production wanes, however, the good times look to continue and landowners in Williston, North Dakota will continue to look forward to their monthly rent checks.

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Jay Yao has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.

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