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North Dakota: Oil! Big number! Just ignore context.

April 6, 2011

I was flipping through my usual major news sources and came across an article in the The Bismarck Tribune titled 1.85 billion barrels later, North Dakota’s oil patch turns 60.  Naturally my first thought was “how in the world did I end up at The Bismarck Tribune’s website?!” (burn, I apologize to anyone I know who might be from Bismarck (more subtle burn))  My second thought was “there’s a ‘C’ in Bismarck?”  But finally I got around to actually reading the article.

And color me impressed.  The author threw around some pretty big numbers.  1.85 billion barrels, 191 million barrels, 5,300 oil wells, 200 companies, 99%.  Oil is huge.  Oil is great! Oil is TOO BIG TO FAIL! … oh, um, OK, I better slow down a bit.  What do these numbers actually mean?

Well, the article title highlights the statistic that since April 4, 1951, North Dakota has produced 1,850,000,000 barrels of oil.  That does seem like a lot.  I mean, it would take the US 99.6 days to use that much oil.  Yeah, you read that right.  If we took everything North Dakota has produced since the first drop was discovered six decades ago, we could churn through it in about 3 months.

North Dakota broke a record in 2010 and produced 113 million barrels of oil.  That’s six days at our rate of use, not even a week.  Well, OK, it’s a work week, I’ll give them that much.  In four to seven years they think they’ll  be at 700,000 barrels per day.  I don’t know though, 3.7% of our consumption is a pretty lofty goal for our 4th largest oil producing state (behind Texas, California, and Alaska).

The author also used some rather glowing words to describe the state’s potential of 4.3 billion barrels total that can come from the Bakken formation as “the largest continuous oil accumulation [the US Geological Survey] had ever assessed.”  4.3 billion gets us less than 8 months.  And this is the largest ever assessed.  I can only assume this writer must have recently bought stock in some ND drilling companies.

But wait, I’m just looking at North Dakota.  The oil rush in this region, fueled (ahem, pun) by that first find in ND, has resulted in holes being drilled into the earth over a 134,000 square mile region throughout North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.  And across the nation we have some other substantial production sources.  If you pool everything together, we produce over 5 million barrels of oil per day.  Almost 2 billion barrels per year!  BIG NUMBER!  We are awesome!  Of course we use 9 million barrels per day for gasoline alone.  But don’t let that get you down, it’s my fault for being more thorough than an AP writer.

The Bismarck Tribune article:

EIA Oil statistics:


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