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Tight Oil Adds Energy Security, Has Local Impact

Bakken Shale Oil area and wells in 2010, click to enlarge
(Dec. 7, 2011) - After study, it appears that 20 unconventional oil fields could equal US offshore production by 2020, but it will involve extraction in parts of the United State that have not seen petroleum wells before.

The prospect of unconventional oil will not make the US energy independent, but will make it energy secure, said Frank A. Verrastro director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies energy and national security program. (For a video of the presentation and selected slide shows, click here.)

Recently the National Petroleum Council released a report on oil and gas development in North America. Tight oil is petroleum found in rocks that have very low porosity and permeability which impeded the flow of the oil to a well bore. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, similar to shale gas technology, is used to extract the oil.

Jim Sorensen, research manager of the North Dakota Energy & Environmental Research Center, said tight oil could provide 2 million barrels of oil a day by 2020 and remain at that level through 2050. However, at present only one to two percent of the oil in the Bakken formation of North Dakota is economically recoverable. As that factor improves, the potential becomes greater, he said.

But the unconventional oil is coming at a cost. Although it is creating jobs, the quick influx into small communities has created social dislocations.

Daryl Dukart, county commissioner of Dunn County, ND, said the local region is two years behind in the infrastructure needed to meet the needs presented by the growth of oil. In 2007 the county had a budget of $4 million, but by 2011 it had grown to $35.7 million.

But the human and social costs have grown as well. In 2006 there were 213 criminal court cases; by 2010 the load had grown to 377. "The States Attorney Office has seen a substantial increase in child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, violent crime, alcohol related offenses, and illegal drugs," said one of Dukart's slides. "Traffic and alcohol related offenses combined had a substantial increase of 300%."

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