Potential Effects of Energy Development on Environmental Resources of the Williston Basin in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota — Executive Summary

Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5070-A
Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management
By: , and 

Links

Executive Summary

The Williston Basin, which includes parts of Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota in the United States and parts of Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Canada, has been explored as a potential source of energy resources since the early 20th century; however, commercially viable petroleum drilling and recovery began in earnest in the 1950s. When oil prices rose in the mid-1980s, the number of wells also increased and then subsequently declined. Interest in the Williston Basin increased again in the mid-2000s with the application of new drilling technology. Since then, development has increased rather quickly. Most of this new development has been facilitated by advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies. The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources reported an increase of more than 10,000 producing wells between 2000 and the spring of 2016. In total, 84 percent of those 10,000 wells target the Bakken Formation, which is now home to one of the Nation’s largest energy booms. Current estimates suggest that exploration and drilling activities are expected to continue for the next 20 to 50 years; however, future activity will likely ebb and flow in response to energy prices.

Although most energy has been developed on non-Federal property, more than 2,000 wells were started on federally managed lands in the three States that contain the Williston Basin between 2004 and 2015, though these numbers do not reflect whether or not these wells targeted the Bakken Formation. Executive Order no. 13604 (March 22, 2012) directs Federal agencies to improve the timeliness of the permitting process for extracting publically owned minerals, while minimizing negative environmental effects. This means that Federal agencies need information about how energy development may affect other resources they are tasked with managing. One example of where information about potential effects of development may be useful is the Bureau of Land Management’s permitting process. Permits may include stipulations or special conditions that limit unforeseen negative consequences or ameliorate potential conflicts of future development. Federal agencies also need to coordinate permitting actions to ensure that development complies with existing regulations (for example, the Endangered Species Act [16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.] or the National Environmental Protection Act [42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq.]) without unnecessarily restricting or delaying development. Part of this coordination entails agreeing on the information that will be used to assess the potential effects of energy development, which should also improve efficiency of the permitting process. Within the Williston Basin, a group of Federal agencies called the Bakken Federal Executive Group is developing coordination strategies for numerous energy-related issues on Federal lands. This report was developed in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management to provide them with the best available scientific information to support documentation of potential effects on resources that Federal agencies manage. This report summarizes information about the effects of energy development on air, water, and biological resources within the U.S. part of the Williston Basin.

The topics discussed in the report were based on a prioritized list of information needs elicited from the Bakken Federal Executive Group. The list was developed using a process known as structured decision making or decision analysis. This process began with an initial scoping workshop to determine the range of decisions made by those involved directly in managing energy development and resources on public land. U.S. Geological Survey staff then developed a simple quantitative ranking tool to assess which information needs were of greatest importance to those decisions.

Suggested Citation

Post van der Burg, M., Vining, K.C., and Frankforter, J.D., 2022, Potential effects of energy development on environmental resources of the Williston Basin in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota — Executive summary: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2017–5070–A, 7 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20175070A.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Executive Summary
  • Principal Findings
  • References Cited
  • Appendix A1. Administrative Report—Summary of Scoping Process for Bakken Environmental Status and Trends Report
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Potential effects of energy development on environmental resources of the Williston Basin in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota — Executive summary
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2017-5070
Chapter A
DOI 10.3133/sir20175070A
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston VA
Contributing office(s) Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Description Report: v, 7 p.; Appendix
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title Potential Effects of Energy Development on Environmental Resources of the Williston Basin in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota
Country United States
State Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota
Other Geospatial Williston Basin
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details