North Dakota's Tyler Formation, a black, petroliferous rock some 317 million years old in the prolific Williston Basin, has been touted as the next big thing. Also called the "baby Bakken," North Dakota geologist and consultant Kathleen Neset reports seeing an uptick in leasing activity around the formation.
"I'm already seeing companies lease property in Tyler," Neset says. "Prices are starting to increase," said Neset, who has consulted for companies including Hess, Denbury, Continental, Williams, and Whiting Oil & Gas. She is president of Neset Consulting Service, which has more than 70 wellsite geology and mudlogging teams working primarily in the Williston Basin, according to the company's website. She declines to say just which companies are seeking out leaseholds in the Tyler's backyard.
The play is comprised of sandstone, limestone, siltstone, and some shale. It is thinner and shallower than the Bakken, and is contained in a smaller area, Neset says. Though leasing activity is starting to percolate in the formation, she doesn't see exploration taking off for another three to five years.
Alison Ritter, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Mineral Resources, says the state's "best" estimate for the Tyler right now is 1 billion barrels.
"It's a little early yet," Ritter said. "With the Bakken as successful as it is, people will go where it's proven...then later venture out to the Tyler."
One producer impatient to plow into the Tyler is Williston Exploration, which holds about 3,000 acres there. The company is looking to invest $15-$20 million in the next five to six years to drill five or six Tyler development wells. Williston Exploration has drilled one Tyler well and operates and owns partial stakes in 15 producing wells, says Jim Levy, vice president of Williston Exploration. The production range has been between 5 b/d to 90 b/d, per well, Levy says.
"We're the outliers-like the mammals in the age of the dinosaurs," says Levy, an Austin, Texas-schooled geologist apt to give you two earfuls about North Dakota geology.
While other producers are lasered on the Bakken and the Three Forks, for Levy, it's "the ol' baseball thing - hit them where they ain't," he says. (For those who aren't familiar with that reference, you can read about it here.) First drilled in the 1950s, the Tyler "is a forgotten formation that we love," Levy says.
Though a conventional play, Levy sees advantage in drilling at least some wells laterally. Some wells sit on federal land and drillers "can't put a footprint on it," Levy says. And laterally-drilled wells can more than double well production. "If drilled properly it can be very profitable to drill a virgin Tyler well," he says.