June 2013 - Bakken Formation, North Dakota

Jun 20, 2013
Captain's Log 1XE, Day 1 in the month of June in the Earth Calendar Year of 2013. It truly felt like we were in a starship when we finally blasted off to North Dakota after numerous weather delays, to obtain video footage of the biggest oil play in the West, the Bakken Fields.  See EcoFlight video.
The contrasts are ubiquitous - from our posh breakfast in one of Aspen's finest dining establishments to a bar in Williston, straight out of a scene from one of the Star Wars epics; from 761XE departing Aspen in heavily laden clouds over spring-verdant valleys and mountains, to 761XE arriving in an equally verdant but totally Mad Max type of landscape - a fragmented North Dakota, orange clay roads spiderwebbing their way to thousands of oil wells, and flares and flames erupting from many of the well pads.

The Bakken Formation is one of the nation's largest oil and gas basins. Since 2008 more than 4,000 new wells have been drilled here. Daily oil production in the region is now over 700,000 barrels. Most of the oil recovery occurs in the first 2-3 years after drilling a new well and then daily production drops sharply, making it necessary to drill more rigs more often, which requires the use of millions of gallons of fresh water and leaves a massive footprint on the landscape.

We are here to help grassroots organizations who are working to keep this onslaught of wells from moving into wilderness-quality lands and Native American sacred sites in North Dakota's grasslands, which overlay the oil-rich Bakken Formation. Providing habitat for elk, antelope, deer, bighorn sheep, coyotes and an array of birds and raptors, the area is steeped in western tradition, and the battles that took place here between the settlers and the Indians were epic. It was here in this beautiful landscape that Teddy Roosevelt is thought to have become a lifelong conservationist in the 1880's as he was hunting for bison, later buying a ranch and spending much time here.

An early morning flight reveals a region "on fire". As far as the eye can see, flares from pits light up the sky. It is an area that is really booming and where every imaginable sort of person has become an oil industry worker, making the "big bucks", perhaps due to a USGS report in April 2013 estimating the amount of recoverable oil in the Bakken Formation at 7.4 billion barrels, more than twice the previous estimate of 3.65 billion barrels from a 2008 study.

Yes, there are enormous amounts of money to be made and we do need the energy resource. However, time after time I repeat my personal philosophy that this drilling can and must be done properly, and in some cases just should not be done.

Some of the badlands and wilderness quality grasslands around the Theodore Roosevelt National Park are some of those places that need to be preserved for future generations to enjoy as places of respite, just as Teddy Roosevelt enjoyed them.

Bruce Gordon