A Bakken Well's Short Life Cycle

A Bakken Well's Short Life Cycle
A Bakken Well's Short Life Cycle

Although there has been great enthusiasm over the abundance of tight oil coming out of the Bakken Shale, some geologists are warning that there is reason to temper this enthusiasm.

The above graph was presented by J. David Hughes at the American Geophysical Union last month and reproduced by Raymond Pierrehumbert in an article on Slate. It shows the rapid rate of decline in production from new wells in the Bakken.

The horizontal axis represents months of production and the vertical represents production in barrels per day. The curve is parabolic and steep. After one year production has declined 69 percent, the second year another 39 percent and so forth, so that after five years production is less than 1/10th what it was at the start.

As Pierrehumbert writes on Slate:

According to . . . Hughes . . , we are now drilling 25,000 wells per year just to bring production back to the levels of the year 2000, when we were drilling only 5,000 wells per year. Worse, the days are long gone when you could stick a pitchfork in the ground and get a gusher that would produce for years. The new wells are expensive (on the order of $10 million each in the Bakken) but give out rapidly.

The Bakken has already raised US oil production by 20 percent, the largest increase in decades. Moreover, the Bakken is only one of several tight oil formations now made accessible by fracking. The Eagle Ford in Texas is equally large and the Monterrey Shale in central California is four times the size of the Bakken. In addition, contemporary fracking technology still leaves 99 percent of the oil in place. Other new technologies may develop that access even more oil.

Nevertheless, the curve serves as a warning against too great a reliane on reviving fossil fuels.  As Pierrehumbert concludes: "We won't be much better off in the long run if cheap [oil and] gas only succeed in killing off the nascent renewables industry and the development of next-generation nuclear power."

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