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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published May 20 2011

Hoeven: Feds will do new oil study

GRAND FORKS – A new study of recoverable oil reserves in western North Dakota’s Williston Basin has been authorized by the U.S. Interior Department, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., announced Thursday.

Hoeven said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar agreed to his request for an updated analysis of recoverable oil reserves in the basin to provide “a long-term outlook for production potential and infrastructure investment in the region.”

Interior’s U.S. Geological Survey plans to begin the study in October and expects to complete it within one or two years, the senator said.

Hoeven had pressed Interior officials for a new study last year and met with Salazar in early March during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which Hoeven serves.

Following that hearing, Hoeven organized a meeting of the U.S. Geological Survey, North Dakota state and local officials and oil industry leaders in Bismarck. At that meeting, oil producers told of the need, value and timeliness of a new, updated study.

Hoeven and Salazar discussed the study request again earlier this week, and the secretary told Hoeven this morning that the agency would move forward with the study.

Hoeven expressed thanks to Salazar and other Interior officials for “following through on a matter that’s important to North Dakota and the nation.”

Technological advances have significantly increased the amount of oil that is recoverable in western North Dakota, suggesting that the current boom has potential to continue for some time.

“An updated USGS survey will be critical to attract infrastructure investment for housing, hotels, retail stores and service companies to growing communities in western North Dakota by confirming, with good data, that the Williston Basin is a sustainable, long-term play warranting substantial private investment,” Hoeven said.

In a statement released by Hoeven’s Washington D.C. office, Salazar said the resource must be developed “with the best science available, and there is now significant new geological information. With ever-advancing production technologies, this could mean more oil could potentially be recovered in the formation to contribute to our nation’s comprehensive energy portfolio.”

Hoeven said increased production of domestic oil and gas “can help us to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and keep down the cost of gasoline and diesel at the pump for consumers,” but that development should be done “in a thoughtful, balanced fashion that helps communities grow in a positive, constructive way.”

Seven companies producing oil in North Dakota have already provided data to the USGS about the latest technologies and recovery rates in the Williston Basin, including XTO Energy; Continental Oil; Cornerstone Energy Resources; Marathon Oil; United Energy Corporation; and Sinclair Oil Corporation, according to Hoeven’s statement. Whiting Oil and Gas will be presenting technical data to the USGS in Denver. The North Dakota Division of Mineral Resources also shared geological data with the USGS.

A USGS study released in April 2008 identified 3.65 billion recoverable barrels of oil in the Bakken Formation. Many of the companies operating in the basin have told Hoeven they believe the region holds significantly more recoverable reserves.

Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald