Originally discovered in 1951, the Bakken has been in constant production for over 60 years. The amount of oil it produced for the better part of its existence, though, can best be described as negligible.
Generally overlooked as small-scale, isolated, and unprofitable for the better part of its existence, the Bakken was producing a mere 500 b/d in November 1970 - the very same year domestic oil production surged to an all-time high of 9.6 million b/d. As recently as October 2006, the Bakken was yielding less than 10,000 b/d. It is hardly the expected profile of a field that now finds itself at the epicenter of a historic American energy renaissance.
Through the gradual mastery of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the industry has managed to unlock huge quantities of previously inaccessible hydrocarbons. The Bakken has subsequently transitioned from a inconsequential backwater to one of the most prolific fields in American history, thanks in large part to Harold Hamm and Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR).
It will soon join its two Lonestar rivals - South Texas' Eagle Ford and West Texas' Permian Basin - in the exclusive 1 million+ b/d club. Prior to the shale revolution, only one US field had ever achieved this iconic milestone - Alaska's Prudhoe Bay, which came on-stream in June 1977 and reached a peak production of 1.5 million b/d in 1979.
The chart below (compiled by the author with data from the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources) displays the evolution of production at the Bakken over the past 4 years.