Groundwater availability of the Williston Basin, United States and Canada

Professional Paper 1841
Water Availability and Use Science Program
By: , and 


Executive Summary

The Williston Basin of the Northern Great Plains is a sedimentary basin—a geologic bowl-like structure filled with layered sedimentary rocks dating as far back as the Paleozoic age. The basin, which is nationally important for the production of energy resources, spans Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota in the United States, and Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Canada. The three uppermost principal aquifer systems are the glacial, lower Tertiary, and Upper Cretaceous aquifer systems. As deep as 3,000 feet (ft) at the center of the basin, these are the most accessible aquifer systems in the basin and are the primary sources of potable groundwater in much of this area. The glacial aquifer system consists of Quaternary-age unconsolidated till, silt, clay, outwash sand and gravel, and occasional cobbles and boulders. The lower Tertiary and Upper Cretaceous aquifer systems consist primarily of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, shale, and coal.

As energy demands have increased in the basin, horizontal drilling and hydraulic-fracturing have been used (especially since 2005) to develop previously inaccessible formations—namely, the Bakken and Three Forks Formations. The basin has yielded a large supply of domestic oil and natural gas since the 1950s, but the technologies required to extract those materials use large amounts of freshwater. The increasing freshwater demands of energy production in the Williston Basin, in addition to population growth, have led to a need for new tools to assess groundwater resources.

Suggested Citation

Long, A.J., Thamke, J.N., Davis, K.W., and Bartos, T.T., 2018, Groundwater availability of the Williston Basin, United States and Canada: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1841, 42 p.,

ISSN: 2330-7102 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Assessing Groundwater Availability
  • Analysis of Precipitation and Recharge
  • Comparison of Conceptual and Numerical Models
  • Simulated Transient Groundwater-Flow Budget
  • Simulated Groundwater Response to Flowing Artesian Wells
  • Simulated Groundwater Responses during Drought
  • Improving Hydrologic Monitoring Networks
  • Numerical Groundwater-Flow Model Uses, Limitations, and Challenges
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Groundwater availability of the Williston Basin, United States and Canada
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 1841
DOI 10.3133/pp1841
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Wyoming-Montana Water Science Center
Description Report: viii, 42 p.; Data releases
Country Canada, United States
Other Geospatial Williston Basin
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details