Even though oil is underground, Landsat images can reveal related land changes on the surface. The Bakken oil boom has made North Dakota the second leading oil producing state—behind only Texas. Evidence of this boom is apparent on the landscape.
The focus of this oil boom, which began around 2008, is on the Bakken formation of western North Dakota, northeastern Montana, and part of Canada. The Bakken formation constitutes one of the largest deposits of oil and natural gas in the United States. The Bakken is part of the larger Williston Basin, which, according to a 2013 USGS study, has 7.4 billion barrels of oil that is recoverable using today’s technology.
These Landsat images show the increasing number of oil platforms over just a few years, along with associated infrastructure changes. The overview images in this introductory section show the entire region that will be discussed in more detail in the following subsections.
The North Dakota oil industry took off in the 1950s. When oil prices dropped in the 1980s, that boom ended. Oil prices recovered by 1990, but the current boom didn’t hit until the technology of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, came along in the 2000s. By 2008, drilling in North Dakota surged like never before and oil production increased dramatically.
The oil and natural gas within the Bakken are locked in a rock formation. Fracking uses a mix of water, salt, chemicals, and sand to fracture the rock. The fractured rock allows the oil to flow to the well.
The price of oil crashed again in 2014, halting most of the drilling. But this was only after North Dakota’s oil industry reached the milestone of producing 1 million barrels per day. In mid-2017, oil prices recovered to around $50 a barrel, stabilizing the situation in North Dakota.
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