|Neset talks geology in N.D. Reclamation Conference keynote speech
For Kathleen Neset, president of wellsite services company Neset Consulting Service, the story of the North Dakota oil economy is all about geology.
Neset built her career on her expertise in the science and its ready application to energy extraction, and imparted some knowledge of the oilfield’s unique characteristics and impact on safety and reclamation efforts in her keynote speech for the North Dakota Reclamation Conference on Feb. 22 in Dickinson.
The annual conference, in its fourth year, focuses on reclamation efforts within the state’s oil economy. Today’s speakers include Dave Glatt, chief of the Environmental Health Section of the North Dakota Department of Health, Erin Espeland, a research ecologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Aaron Daigh, a soil researcher at North Dakota State University.
Early in her presentation, Neset pointed out the presence of her neighbors, Patty and Steve Jensen, in the audience.
In 2013, a Tesoro Logistics pipeline leak spilled 20,600 barrels of oil into the Jensen’s wheat field. The reclamation effort on the site is still ongoing.
“I find it very important to talk about reclamation because I live on a farm northeast of Tioga -- about 1,100 feet from my front door, (Hess Corp.) has a dual-lateral well pad,” Neset said. “They just drilled this past year, so I live, eat, breathe the oilfield. Just like I work to find the oil for companies, I’m also part of the landowner group.”
Soon after, Neset compared a map of the state’s oil rigs to a cross-section of the Williston Basin, the great geologic indentation in which the Bakken formation is cradled.
The greatest depths of the basin, she pointed out, correspond with the greatest clustering of oil rigs, with the very deepest point lying somewhere about 16,000 feet beneath the Watford City area.
Neset said the depth of the basin as a whole and the roughly 10,000-foot-deep Bakken, in particular, provide a natural layer of protection through sheer physical separation from the area’s potable groundwater, which sits at a maximum depth of about 2,000 feet.
“You cannot frack through 8,000 feet of rock,” she said. “… North Dakota really has this incredibly special geology that separates the water zones from the oil zones.”
That geology also allows for minimally porous rock to be saturated with oil, which can be retrieved through the fracking process.
Neset demonstrated some of that point by producing chunks of actual, seemingly unyielding Bakken shale to provide a visual aid to her audience.
“Believe it or not, this solid looking rock is the very rock that we pull this crude oil out of,” she said, holding up a bottle of unrefined Bakken crude. “We can pull this from this kind of rock and do it nearly by cracking it open and fracking it.”
Neset described that aspect as the “magic” of the Bakken oil play.
Within the play, recent technological developments in extraction, along with increased regulatory measures and industry safeguards and use of best practices, have allowed oil producers to reduce their footprint and ease the reclamation process, Neset said.
She specifically cited the use of energy corridors, single roads that branch out multiple drill pads, as well as horizontal drilling methods that leave greater swaths of surface lands untouched, as some of the practices that have modernized oil extraction while leaving a gentler mark on affected lands.
After finishing her speech, Neset said she hoped her audience understood they “have a voice in this whole process of reclamation.”
“Oil companies want to hear from them,” she said. “They want input into the reclamation process.”