The development of the Three Forks play in the Williston Basin gained momentum in the first part of 2012, as various exploration and production operators reported success in demonstrating the productivity of this oil formation.

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Three Forks
Most of the recent development in the Williston Basin has occurred in the Middle Bakken zone in parts of North Dakota and Montana. The Three Forks formation also produces mostly crude oil and is present underneath the Bakken. The play has seen limited development over the last three years as operators focused on the better known Bakken play.

SEE: A Guide To Investing In Oil Markets

Three Forks Activity
EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) reported four successful wells drilled into the Three Forks in McKenzie County, North Dakota, during the first quarter of 2012. The four wells had initial production rates ranging from 926 to 3,415 barrels of oil per day, with natural gas production between 1.2 million and 3 million cubic feet per day.

Continental Resources (NYSE:CLR) is also active in the Williston Basin and is one of the leaders in developing the Bakken play on its properties. The company has been testing the Three Forks play across its acreage over the last few years.

Continental Resources reports that the thickness of the Three Forks ranges from 180 to 270 feet on its acreage and is separated into more than one zone. The company has drilled two wells into the second-bench of the Three Forks, and reported that the first well produced 64,000 barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) in the first six months and the second well produced 48,000 BOE in the first three months.

It plans to drill as many as eight Three Forks wells by the end of 2012, and is targeting the first, second and third benches of this play.

SEE: The Strategic Oil Reserves Explained

Denbury Resources (NYSE:DNR) has focused mostly on the Bakken play but has also drilled several wells into the Three Forks formation. The company reported that initial production rates on these wells during the first 24 hours ranged from 928 to 2,663 BOE per day. It has nine other Three Forks wells in various stages of drilling or completion and plans to release details of these wells when available.

In 2012, the company plans to drill a total of 17 Three Forks wells as it seeks to determine the potential of this formation on its properties.

Marathon Oil (NYSE:MRO) has made substantial investments in the onshore United States over the last few years and has acreage in the Williston Basin. The company reported that the most productive well drilled in the basin during the first quarter of 2012 was completed into the Three Forks formation, and produced at an initial rate of 2,400 BOE per day.

Murphy Oil (NYSE:MUR) is testing the Three Forks on its acreage in Southern Alberta, Canada, and reported production of 350 barrels of oil per day on a recent well. The company encountered problems with a wax build up in the well and is analyzing results to make future wells more productive.

SEE: Why Crude Oil Prices May Not Affect Pump Prices

The Bottom Line
Many exploration and production companies feel that the Three Forks may one day be as productive as the Bakken, and are planning to expand development of this oily play in the Williston Basin. This activity will lead to higher domestic production and will lessen our dependence on oil imports.

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