January 24, 2021

North Dakota is located in the Upper Midwest region of the United States. It lies at the center of the North American continent and borders Canada to the north. It was named for the Sioux people who once lived in the territory. Farms and ranches cover nearly all of North Dakota. They stretch from the flat Red River Valley in the east, across rolling plains, to the rugged Badlands in the west. The chief crop, wheat, is grown in nearly every county.
The Williston Basin is a large sedimentary basin in eastern Montana, western North Dakota, South Dakota, and southern Saskatchewan.
Even though the Williston Basin is known as an oil-rich basin, the earliest wells were drilled in the hope of finding natural gas as it could be used essentially as it came out of the ground.
Natural gas was first reported in 1892 in an artesian well. Methane was later obtained from many artesian wells from Jamestown and Merricourt. It was used for lights, cooking and heating.
A gas discovery was made at in Bottineau County in 1907. A company known as the North Dakota Gas Company supplied gas to the town of Westhope through a 20-mile pileline.
The earliest North Dakota oil and gas exploration, beginning before 1910, was hampered by primitive technology. Cable tools couldn’t drill deep enough.
In 1913, shallow gas was discovered in an Upper Cretaceous sandstone on the Cedar Creek Anticline, and some oil was discovered on the same anticline in 1936. One of the first modern rigs drilled a deep test well, 10,000 ft deep, near Tioga in 1938.
Amerada Corporation began the search in 1946. After four years of testing and mapping they started drilling at a promising lease 30 miles north-east of Williston, North Dakota, and on April 4, 1951,
In May 1949 the State Geologist Wilson Laird was sent for confidential missions in Germany and Turkey. He was replaced by Nicholas N. Kohanowski who signed in 1950, the drilling permit for Amerada Petroleum’s No. 1 Clarence Iverson well.
The hole was drilled to 11,740 ft where a 5 ½-inch casing was set and cemented. After a month of stand by partly due to the harsh winter, the well was perforated and tested to two million cubic feet of natural gas. With an acid stimulation the gas flow increased to 7 million.
At about one in the morning on April 4, 1951, after four months of hard drilling and with snow piled high from recent blizzards, the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well produced oil.
Amerada Petroleum’s 1951 discovery – the first commercial oil well in North Dakota – will help reveal a prolific petroleum basin stretching from North and South Dakota, Montana, and into Canada.
By 1952, Standard Oil of Indiana was building a 30,000 barrel per day refinery. Forty-two oilfield service and supply companies had opened offices in Williston. In June, Service Pipeline Company announced it would build a pipeline to the Standard refinery.
Sid Anderson, a former state geologist, who was a college student at the University of North Dakota when oil was discovered later said:
“It was brand new, then, and pretty exciting times”. The amber-colored oil in the area was of such high quality, Anderson recalled, that “you could have run a diesel with it straight from the well.”
The earliest producing wells of the Bakken shale formation were drilled in the early 1950s on Henry O. Bakken’s farm less than five miles from the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well.
Occupying about 200,000 square miles within the Williston Basin, the oil shale of the Bakken formation may be the largest domestic oil resource since Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay.
U.S. Geological Survey has estimated 3.0 billion barrels to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered oil in America’s portion of the Bakken formation, elevating it to a world-class accumulation.
In June 2014, North Dakota’s oil production hit the milestone of 1 million (1,000,000) barrels of oil per day.
(Source: Powered by North Dakota/Wikipedia/North Dakota Geological Survey/AOGHS – Image: Drilling the Clarence Iverson No. 1 well in 1951/William E. Shenomy collection)