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understand where you are in the shale and use that to optimize your fracking,” Bond said.

Bond says another imaging device, which is often used in the Barnett shale, could be coming to the Bakken formation soon. This tool measures electrical resitivity, or resistance, to gather information about the rock formation.

“We’ve got a very high resolution resitivity imager that takes pictures of the well bore,” Bond said. “You can see the layers and the bedding in the rocks. We can also see natural fractures. We use these images to plan frac jobs and optimize fracking.”

Halliburton’s Pinnacle service, while not a logging-while-drilling practice, also maps fractures in reservoirs.

“Pinnacle performed several microseismic mapping projects in the Bakken this past January,” said Kevin Fisher, general manager of Pinnacle.

And then there are the frac fluids. Helms said one new technology is a frac fluid made completely of food-grade materials. This innovation could ease safety concerns about frac fluids contaminating the water table.

“We’ve learned that the bulk of what’s in those frac fluids are things we come into contact within our daily lives, but they’re not necessarily things we eat and drink,” Helms said.

The food-grade frac fluid, produced by Halliburton, is called CleanStim. It has not made it to the Bakken yet. Eberhard says some of the other new frac fluid technologies, including one that recycles water, are becoming more available.

“As equipment is built, we continue to deploy across the nation,” he said.

According to Helms, the development and adaptation of new technologies have already paid off in higher oil and gas reserves. The U.S. natural gas supply has grown from ten years to 100 years since 2005, which he said highlights the potential for shale plays to improve U.S. energy security and stimulate local economies.

Pierce said shale oil and shale gas are currently only produced in the United States and Canada. In what will likely be a multi-year process, the U.S. Geological Survey plans to conduct a study to assess global unconventional resources — worldwide resources that could be recovered with currently proven technology.

Even within the United States, Pierce said geologists and energy companies are still learning about shale oil, shale gas and other unconventional resources.

“It’s a global unknown,” Pierce said. But if new technologies open up unconventional plays around the globe, it is a trend that could stick. Like airplanes, automobiles and Velcro. ■

According to Brenda Pierce, coordinator for the Energy Resources Program at the United States Geological Survey, there is a big difference between oil shale and shale oil and gas formations.

The United States has vast resources of oil shale, particularly in the Green River formation in Utah and Colorado. This sedimentary rock contains kerogen, a precursor to oil. Since kerogen has to be heated to create oil, it can be mined and then heated, or heaters can be inserted in the ground to transform it into oil before recovery. The process is complex and expensive.

“There’s not yet any economically proven technology to develop oil shale,” Pierce said.

Compared to oil shale, shale oil and gas formations like the Bakken are very different animals. Pierce said shale oil and gas formations contain oil and gas that is recoverable once pore spaces within the rocks are connected through processes like hydraulic fracturing.

Image courtesy of Baker Hughes

The plug-and-perf system is one of two main types of liners currently used for fracking lateral sections of wells in the Bakken. The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing has allowed companies to recover unconventional resources in the Bakken shale play.

They are also called unconventional resources. This is because any tight rock formation with oil or gas reserves, including sandstone or carbonates like limestone, could use unconventional development techniques like those used in the Bakken.


Image courtesy of Baker Hughes

The Baker Hughes AutoTrak rotary steerable drilling system can be used to drill all phases of horizontal wells, such as those in the Bakken, giving access to unconventional resources.

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