When the day comes that the Bakken is fully developed, it's likely every square mile underneath the surface of western North Dakota will have been drilled.
Alison Ritter, public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources in Bismarck, said, "Once this is all said and done, we'll only be using a little over 200 square miles of surface usage compare that to the 15,000 square miles that the Bakken mature area really is. The impact will be underneath the ground."
"This is how they're going to do it, how they're going to access those minerals," Ritter said. "Each one of those well pads can have four to six sister wells, and sometimes more."
This photo from the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources shows the Bakken Formation – upper shale, middle member and lower shale, and the Three Forks Formation.
The Bakken mature area is the most lucrative area and covers a number of counties in western North Dakota, shown in this map from the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources. It’s likely every square mile underneath the surface will have been drilled when the Bakken is fully developed.
She showed a diagram of eight wells. "Four of those wells will be accessing the Middle Bakken and four of those wells will access the Three Forks," she said, referring to those formations.
Ritter, in a presentation to the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce's Energy Committee, said the N.D. Oil and Gas Division, a division of the Minerals Department, has permitted 14 well pads outside of Williston.
"That's the biggest we've permitted to date," she said, adding, "It's all based on the geology of the area and what's needed.
Most wells now are 1,280-acre spacing units.
A spacing unit is two sections of land 1,280 acres so the minerals would be defined in those two sections or four sections, Ritter said. "We do have certain setback requirements to make sure that we're protecting the rights of the mineral owners in that spacing unit."
In 2010, the North Dakota Industrial Commission organized about 10,000 or 15,000 square miles into North-South 1,280-acre spacing and drilling units.
"They put an organizational pattern out there on the landscape so we just weren't plopping things down all over everywhere, They organized it, but there is room for flexibility. It gave us some groundwork to start on and then continue to expand, Ritter said.
The Bakken play in North Dakota is one of about 20 shale plays across the United States.