This article has been updated on Oct. 23, 2014.
It's hard to argue the fact that Bakken Shale has become a game-changer for U.S. oil production. While it was discovered in the 1950s the play wasn't economically viable until more recently. Since producers began developing the play in earnest, it has produced some truly incredible numbers. Here are the 10 most incredible numbers from North Dakota's black gold mine.
1. 14,700 miles
The Bakken and the associated Three Forks covers 14,700 square miles, making it the largest continuous crude oil accumulation in the U.S. The play covers over 8 million acres North Dakota and Montana as well as parts of Canada. Continental Resources (CLR 5.15%) is the largest leaseholder with more than 1.2 million net acres.
2. $10 million per well
Well costs in the Bakken are always evolving. For example, in 2012 it cost Continental Resources $9.2 million to drill one well. By the first half of 2014 those costs were down to $7.4 million per well. However, the company has started to reinvest some of its savings into optimizing its wells so that its costs are now over $10 million per well. The big difference is that the company is seeing a greater return on a $10 million well today than on the $9.2 million it spent on each well just two years ago.
3. 45 years of reserve life
A typical Bakken well should continue to produce oil for more than 40 years. However, production starts high and declines pretty rapidly as the pressure in the reservoir is relieved. Over time the decline rate moderates as oil continues to flow through the well. In about four decades the well will stop producing oil despite the fact that more than 85% of the original oil in place will remain underground.
4. 600,000 barrels of oil equivalent per well
Over those 45 years the average Bakken well will produce around 600,000 barrels of oil eequivalent. Some wells will give up much more and some much less but on average producers can expect to retrieve well over a half a million barrels of oil per well. This is assuming that no additional production techniques like enhanced oil recovery are used on the reservoir.
5. $23 million in net profit
That same average well should yield around $23 million in profit to the producer over its life. That profit won't come at a steady pace, instead most of it will come up front, as the oil production from a Bakken well is initially high, and then production declines very rapidly. Still the should yield adequate cash flow depending on the price of oil.
6. $4.3 million in taxes
The average Bakken well will generate over $4 million in taxes. This has created quite an interesting dilemma for the North Dakota Legacy Trust Fund which has already accumulated over a billion dollars. That's well above the state's initial target for the fund. While the state has no immediate plans for the fund, it's looking for the best way to make use of that money.
7. $2.1 million in wages
One of the reasons why North Dakota's unemployment rate is currently just 3.3% is because the wages paid by Bakken oil. Over the lifetime of each well it will dish out more than $2 million in salaries to those that kept its oil flowing.
8. 1,000,000 barrels of oil per day
In July of 2014 oil production in North Dakota hit a record of 1 million barrels of oil per day. This is a rapid gain as in 2007 less than 200,000 barrels of oil per day came out of North Dakota .
9. Up to 100,000 future wells
The industry has already drilled several thousand wells in the Bakken, but thanks to new technologies and new discoveries the industry has 20 to 40 more years of drilling left in the region. While estimates vary the region could one day see 40,000 to upwards of 100,000 more wells drilled as the industry fully develops the play.
10. 96 billion barrels of oil
Estimates vary wildly as to how much oil is in the Bakken petroleum system. More than five years ago the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the Bakken might contain 3 billion-4.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Now, with the development of the Three Forks formation, the USGS has nearly doubled the estimated amount of oil that could be pulled out of the region.
However, some in the industry, including Continental Resources, think that the estimates are still way too low, because these estimates are based on low recovery rates. The industry believes that the system contains 413 to 643 billions of barrels of original oil in place. However, thanks to new current technology about 15% of the oil in place could be recovered. This suggests that up to 96 billion barrels of oil could eventually be pumped out of the region with even more oil possible as technology and techniques improve.
Foolish bottom line
The numbers don't lie: The Bakken is a phenomenal oil play that should produce for many years to come. As it does, those companies operating in the region will enjoy their share of profits.