One of the reasons that the Bakken shale deposits in North Dakota and Montana get relatively little attention is that none of the big integrated oil companies have much presence there. There are some big players there, including Occidental Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: OXY), Hess Corp. (NYSE: HES), Marathon Oil Corp. (NYSE: MRO), and EOG Resources, Inc. (NYSE: EOG). But these are not the companies with the largest lease-holdings.
That honor falls to smaller oil producers including Brigham Exploration Co. (NASDAQ: BEXP), Continental Resources, Inc. (NYSE: CLR), Concho Resources, Inc. (NYSE: CXO), Kodiak Oil & Gas Corp. (NYSE: KOG), Forest Oil Corp. (NYSE: FST), Stone Energy Corp. (NYSE: SGY), Whiting Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: WLL), Abraxas Petroleum Corp. (NASDAQ: AXAS), Approach Resources Inc. (NASDAQ: AREX), and Triangle Petroleum Corp. (AMEX: TPLM). Among services companies RPC Inc. (NYSE: RES), which doesn’t currently have any presence in the Bakken, is looking to join the bigger players up in the north country. A midstream company that is expanding its presence in the Bakken is Tesoro Logistics LP (NYSE: TLLP), a recent spin-off from refiner Tesoro Corp. (NYSE: TSO).
And last week, SemGroup Corp. (NYSE: SEMG) announced that it plans to create a new midstream company, Rose Rock Midstream LP, through a $181 million IPO. Rose Rock owns and operates a gathering, storage, transportation, and marketing business in the Bakken.
Current production from the Bakken shale is about 360,000 barrels/day and there are those who believe that figure will reach well over a million barrels/day in another five years. The US Geological Survey estimates about 4.4 billion potential barrels from the Bakken. Continental Resources’ chairman suggests that the real potential is about six times that.
Whatever the production, the problem remains how to get the oil to market. More pipelines are needed to get the oil to somewhere other than the market hub at Cushing, Oklahoma. The Bakken’s crude competes with the heavy crude coming from the Alberta oil sands for pipeline space and markets. Rail and truck transportation currently haul most of the Bakken’s crude.
A substantial portion of the Bakken’s production is transported by rail, which is far more expensive than pipeline transportation. But the high prices for crude are boosting rail transportation from the Bakken to the Gulf Coast to around 100,000 barrels/day this year. Some analysts think that number could triple by the end of 2012.
And there’s no end in sight for the transportation bottleneck. Proposed pipelines, like the Keystone XL, face opposition from environmental groups, and another proposal for a pipeline from Cushing to Houston died for lack of shipper interest.
The pipeline shortage can’t last. Moving crude by truck and rail is more expensive and far more likely to result in a massive spill than is pipeline transportation.
Transportation problems aside, the Bakken is booming now and is likely to continue growing for years.