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Associated Press, Published May 24 2012

ND drillers aiming for sandy section below Bakken

BISMARCK — Oil drillers working in the rich Bakken and Three Forks formations that are fueling North Dakota's unprecedented oil rush are now aiming for crude in a sandy layer between the two.

Geologists say the layer, which is being called the Pronghorn, is about 60-feet thick.

Denver-based Whiting Petroleum Corp. has several horizontal wells aimed at Pronghorn in western North Dakota, and initial results are positive, company chairman and CEO James Volker said during a panel discussion at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference and Expo.

Some wells were pumping at rates "every bit as good" as the Bakken, said Volker, who was joined on the panel by Harold Hamm, chairman and CEO of Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources Inc., and Dave Roberts, executive vice president of Marathon Oil Corp.

The executives said North Dakota — which is now the nation's No. 2 oil producer, behind only Texas — is a model for oil development in the U.S. They pledged that their companies would act as good stewards.

The layer has often been attributed to the Three Forks formation, and referred to as the Three Forks-Sanish, but it's more correctly part of the Bakken formation directly above it, North Dakota Geological Survey geologist Julie LeFever said. She said the state's Geological Survey is now referring to the layer at the Pronghorn and asked that companies and geologists do the same to avoid confusion.

The three-day expo, which concluded Thursday, drew more than 4,000 people from 47 states and several countries to Bismarck, said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

Among the attendees was Tony La Russa, the former St. Louis Cardinals manager who guided the team to the World Series title last year. Invited by Hamm, he said he was curious to see the oil patch and how things have changes since he was last in the state 50 years ago.

"There is a lot of excitement and a lot of people coming to North Dakota," he said.

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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.