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The Nesson Anticline began forming about 500 million years ago. It is about 75 miles long and a few miles wide. An anticline is a fold in otherwise mostly horizontal rock units. Push toward the center of a throw rug and the resulting long up-fold is analogous to an anticline. In the earth’s interior, they form in the same way as the throw rug example – pressure from earth movements causes rock units to be folded, but not necessarily to the point of breaking. Anticlines can be very effective structures for trapping oil and natural gas. Three anticline structures stand out historically as prolific North Dakota oil producers.


The Nesson Anticline is North Dakota’s biggest single geologic feature. Oil was discovered here in 1951 in the Interlake Formation that formed between 440 and 416 million years ago. The Interlake reaches a thickness of about 1,100 feet. Following oil’s discovery, subsequent drilling on and along the Nesson Anticline hit additional oil-producing rock units that


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span tens of millions of years of geologic time. One, the Madison Group, has been North Dakota’s most prolific oil producer. The Madison approaches 2,500 feet in thickness. Oil fields associated with the Nesson Anticline have yielded about 30 percent of North Dakota’s oil production.


In addition to the Nesson Anticline and just to its southwest, lie the north- south-trending Little Knife Anticline and the Billings Anticline, two of a number of such structures that unmistakably show up on a map of North Dakota’s oil producing areas.


Strike a line from Bottineau to Bowman and you get a good idea of the eastern boundary of oil production in the state. Each of the dozens of oil fields has a unique geologic and production history.


Coal, clinker and crocodiles While Lewis & Clark noted the Williston Basin lignite beds in their journals, it is unlikely they used much of the low-


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