As long as prices stay above $60 a barrel or so, oil will be a mainstay of the North Dakota economy for a generation or more. After drilling companies finish securing leased acreage, it will take 20 years to develop the 35,000 to 40,000 production wells needed to fully exploit the “thermally mature” part of the Bakken shale, an area about the size of West Virginia. Production from a typical Bakken well declines rapidly but on average produces modest amounts of oil for 45 years and earns a profit of $20 million. But as the volume of oil in the Bakken shale is still a moving target, and recovery techniques are increasingly sophisticated, some estimates put the life of the Bakken play, and the attendant upheaval it is causing in North Dakota, at upward of a hundred years.
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