North Dakota isn't only an oil- and gas-producing state, but the state has plenty of other natural resources, including proppant potential, potash, uranium and shallow gas.
Proppants are used in the oil and gas industry for hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, which is used to extract oil and natural gas from shale formations deep underground. Proppants prop open the cracks in the shale so the oil can flow.
"There's two kinds of proppants there's ceramic which we import from China and then there's sand which we're importing mostly from Wisconsin," Alison Ritter, public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources in Bismarck, told members of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce's Energy Committee. She said some proppants may also be coming from Minnesota.
Many trains go through Minot each day pulling large numbers of tank cars, like these pulled by BNSF engines Thursday morning. The railroads are a major shipper in North Dakota of crude oil, one of North Dakota’s natural resources. The state also has other natural resources.
"We do have sand in the state but it's not the right kind of sand for proppant. But we do have something called kaolinite around Glen Ullin that can be used to make ceramic beads," Ritter said.
She said the North Dakota Geological Survey has tested 35 sites and sent the clay to a laboratory in Texas to find out its potential. The N.D. Geological Survey is in the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources.
"We also have potash and uranium potential in the state," Ritter said. "Potash is on the northern border of North Dakota."
She said potash and uranium development is at a standstill right now.
The N.D. Department of Mineral Resources is studying the shallow gas potential in the state.
"We love to hear stories about naturally occurring methane in North Dakota and we welcome people to contact our office and tell us their stories," Ritter said.
"These are considered to be shallow gas occurrences as opposed to natural gas produced from the deeper parts of the Williston Basin," said Fred J. Anderson, a geologist with the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources in Bismarck.
Anderson explained, in information provided to The Minot Daily News, that the geologic conditions in each oil and gas producing area across the U.S. can be typically very different with respect to their particular geologic environment (e.g. depth and separation of units, rock types, etc.) and are best considered and discussed as unique geologic systems.
"Drawing broad-brush comparisons of one oil and gas producing area to another can and often does lead to general misunderstandings of the critical differences that may exist in a particular geologic environment, as compared to the other, and how those differences may or may not play into the suitability of a particular area for natural resource development or any other kind of development for that matter," Anderson said.
"With respect to shallow natural gas occurrence, what has been recorded and observed across our state over the last century and into today is that natural gas has and continues to be found in all types of our shallow ground-water environments and, as we are beginning to better understand through our recent geologic investigative work, most likely originates from within the actual water-bearing units or aquifers themselves and can be sourced from the organic materials that are often found to occur within them," he said.
"We are very fortunate in North Dakota in that the architecture of the rock units in the Williston Basin provide us with a favorable geologic setting for the development of our oil and gas resources, as our zones of production, like the Bakken-Three Forks, are separated from our shallow ground-water resources by often miles of rock, thousands of feet of which act as barriers to fluid flow.
"Other areas across the U.S. where shallow groundwater does occur in close proximity to zones of oil and gas production, will likely present unique challenges for development; not necessarily impossible challenges, just those that are more involved from a scientific and engineering perspective, and as a result, may often be more costly. The key is in obtaining a suitable understanding of the geologic environment up front and ahead of development through planned and deliberate geologic investigation," Anderson said.
He said much of the most recent work completed by the N.D. Geological Survey and Oil & Gas Division, particularly by those in the subsurface geological modeling group, has been to better present to all audiences a readily accessible and coherent picture of the existing geologic environment in North Dakota and how the development of this state's oil and gas resources fits into that picture.
Of the state's natural resources, Ritter said, "The potential is there that's the important thing. We have all these great natural resources so many, many, many years from now when that last Bakken well is plugged, we still have all these other things going for us."