Norvell Nelson, PhD

Is the Stranded Gas in North Dakota’s Bakken Field a Usable Resource?

Executive Summary

The Gas Resource

This whitepaper considers the stranded gas resources being co-produced with the “tight” oil in North Dakota’s booming Bakken and Spanish-Three Forks shale oil fields.  For simplicity these developing oil fields will be referred to, collectively, as the Bakken field in this report.  The fields are concentrated in northwestern North Dakota with major overlap into eastern Montana, southern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba.  These fields are being rapidly developed at such a pace that North Dakota has climbed into 3rd place among the oil producing states in the US.

The expansion of the oil recovery operations in the Bakken area has been advancing at rates that have caused the oil and accompanying gas flows to outpace the development of the needed infrastructure required to bring these products to the market.  The lack of insufficient transport capacity is particularly acute for the gas products.  The oil can be, and is being, shipped out by rail car; the gas, without pipelines, is a stranded gas resource and is usually flared.

This report looks at several technologies which have been proposed to exploit this stranded gas resource for beneficial use.  The proposed applications for use of this stranded gas are encouraged by considering the quantity of natural gas which is in play.  Figure S-1, below, was derived using data from North Dakota[i] State Statistics.  The State of North Dakota has put fairly strict limits on the quantities of gas that may be flared as seen by its quantity remaining more or less static as total production increases.  However, Figure S-1 indicates that considerable quantities of stranded gas are still being flared.

Several uses for this stranded gas have been proposed.  These beneficial uses include conversion to ammonia for fertilizer; conversion to liquids via Fischer-Tropsch or similar processes; and, conversion to electricity using gas turbines or internal combustion engines.  Each of these technologies has their own merits and problems.  This report, part 1 of the series looking at each approach, is focused on the conversion of the gas to ammonia for farm use in North Dakota.   There is an emphasis here on the possibility of converting the stranded gas into ammonia which is a commodity with heavy usage in the agriculture sector.   North Dakota remains an agricultural state even with the Bakken play in action.