Datapages, Inc.Print this page

Click to view presentation in PDF format.


Elm Coulee Field

Middle Bakken Member (Lower Mississippian/Upper Devonian)

Richland County, Montana*


Bill Walker1

Al Powell1, Dick Rollins1, and Ron Shaffer1


Search and Discovery Article #20041 (2006)

Posted November 12, 2006


*Adapted from presentation at AAPG Rocky Mountain Section meeting, Billings, Montana, June 11-13, 2006


1Headington Oil Co., LP, Denver, CO (



Elm Coulee Field, located in the Richland County, MT portion of the western Williston Basin, has been informally named by the MT Oil & Gas Commission to cover Bakken (Lower Mississippian / Upper Devonian) formation production in the county that is not located under previously designated field areas. Over 350 horizontal development wells have been drilled since the field’s initial horizontal producer was drilled in 2000 by LYCO Energy. Current data indicates estimated ultimate reserves per horizontal well ranging to over 1,500,000 bbls of oil, averaging approximately 500,000 bbls per well. From wells drilled to date, the field is expected to produce in excess of 270 million bbls of oil from an area of over 550 square miles. The field is currently producing over 1.7 million barrels of oil per month (55,000+ bbls/day) and has produced over 33 million barrels of oil since its discovery in 2000. Current and planned exploratory drilling activity may expand the limits of the field dramatically. 

One or two wells are currently drilled in each spacing unit in the field, which range in size from 320 to 1960 acres, with most wells drilled on 640 and 1280 acre spacing units. Vertical drilling depths range from less than 8,500 feet in the NW portion of the field to more than 10,500 feet in the SE portion. Up to three horizontal laterals are drilled from each vertical well to a lateral distance of from 1,600 feet to over 10,000 feet. Horizontal drilling and large fracture treatment stimulations are keys to developing economically viable reserves from this field, with prior Bakken production from vertical wells in the area having been generally very disappointing.  

The field is primarily a stratigraphic trap developed in the Middle Member of the Bakken formation with a variable and uncertain contribution of production from the overlying, fractured Upper Shale Member of the Bakken. The Middle Bakken Member appears to be the principal reservoir and is primarily a dolomite, variably silty with scattered pyrite and anhydrite, and with increasing argillaceous content toward its base. The Middle Bakken reservoir appears to have developed diagenetically within a large, and complex carbonate bar/bank accumulation which extends over 130 miles from NW to SE, ranging from 6 to 15 miles in width and up to 35 feet thick (thinner and narrower to SE). This complex, variably productive throughout its length, stretches from northwestern Richland County, MT, to southwestern Dunn County, ND, parallel to and basinward of the southwestern margin/shoreline of the Middle Bakken depositional basin. Structurally, in its length of 60+ miles across Richland County, the Bakken pay zone dips about 2,000 feet from NW to SE, traversing over a few small, local structural closures that often produce from deeper Devonian, Silurian and Ordovician reservoirs. 

Within the highly productive Richland County portion of the bar/bank complex, the reservoir is slightly overpressured (approx. 0.50 to 0.55 fluid pressure gradient) and consists of 8-14 feet of 8-12% porosity and low permeability (on the order of 0.05 to 0.10 md). Local variations in these reservoir properties, occasional increased natural fracture development within the reservoir, and variations in completion techniques likely collectively play an important role in the range of well productivity within the field.




uSelected figures

uKeys to success




























uSelected figures

uKeys to success



























uSelected figures

uKeys to success




























uSelected figures

uKeys to success















Selected Figures

Location map, Elm Coulee Field, Richland County, Montana (modified after Heck et al.).

Original type log, Amerada Petroleum Corporation, H.O. Bakken No. 1, SW NW Sec. 12, T.157N., R.95W., North Dakota (modified after LeFever, 1991).

Extents of Bakken members in Williston Basin; schematic structural cross-section (modified after Meissner, 1978).

Principal Bakken producing areas, Williston Basin.

Type logs. Left: Nesson Anticline (modern log--Ranger Korom 10-25, NW SE Sec. 25, T.155N., R.95W., North Dakota). Right: Elm Coulee area (Balcron Oil, Vaira No. 44-24, SE SE Sec. 24, T.24N., R.54E., Montana).

Bakken stratigraphic cross-section, Richland County, Montana. Line of section in figure of geologic setting, Elm Coulee Field.

Geologic setting, Elm Coulee Field—Bakken structure, depositional limits, and productive area.

Isopach map, total Middle Member, Bakken Formation.

Isopach map-Phi-H (porosity x feet>6%), Elm Coulee area.

Summary map, Elm Coulee Field.


Click to view in sequence Elm Coulee Field maps.

General framework of paleo-depositional environments, Middle Member, Bakken Formation.

Well construction diagram, vertical casing exit.

Well construction diagram, horizontal casing exit.

Return to top.

Primary Keys to Success of the Middle Bakken Play 

Horizontal drilling and completion of the well with Fracture Stimulation

            Wells contain 4,000 and 23,000 ft of lateral per well

Typical horizontal fracture stimulation ($350,000 to $650,000)

            Per lateral, in open hole or uncemented pre-perfed liner hole:

                        “Gelled water-sand frac” in several stages

                        Sand concentration from 1 to 4+ pounds of sand per gallon

                                    (20-40 mesh sand, to ~100#/ft of hole)

                                    with additives, surfactants

                        Pumped at rate of 70-100  BPM (in 5,000 ft lateral; total

of ~5,000 bbls gelled water and 400,000# sand)


Elm Coulee Summary 

Production defined to date:

  • In less than 6 years since discovery (through March, 2006), cumulative oil production ~ 32 million bbls

  • Average monthly oil production rate (January, 2006) ~ 1.6 million bbls (March, 2006) from ~ 350 wells

  • Field daily production rate ~ 53,000 bbls/day (per well ~ 152 BOPD)

  • Currently ~ 20 rigs drilling continuously

  • Covers Approximately 530 square miles to date

  • Ultimate recovery >250 million barrels of oil (at 500,000+/- BO)/sq mi)

  • + Estimated >300BCFG (est average GOR 1,200 over life)


Why does it work so well?

  • Elm Coulee Bakken contains well developed, widespread matrix porosity and permeability with coincidental fracture overprint.

  • Horizontal drilling very effective in improving deliverability by accessing more reservoir.

  • Reservoir responds extremely well to large gelled water/sand frac stimulations.

  • Regulatory agency openness to large spacing units has allowed more efficient and effective development.



Heck, T.J., LeFever, R., Fischer, D.W., and LeFever, J., 2004, in Overview of the petroleum geology of the North Dakota, Williston Basin ( (accessed November, 2006).

LeFever, J., 1991, History of oil production from the Bakken Formation, North Dakota, in Geology and horizontal drilling of the Bakken Formation: Montana Geological Society Conference, p. 3-18.

Meissner, F.F., 1978, Petroleum geology of the Bakken Formation, Williston basin, North Dakota and Montana, in D. Rehrig, ed., The economic geology of the Williston basin: Proceedings of the Montana Geological Society, 24th Annual Conference, p. 207-227.


Biographical Data of First Author, William B. Walker 

Since obtaining B.S. and M.S. degrees in geology at the University of Nebraska in 1965 and 1967, Bill Walker has been working as a petroleum geologist in Denver since beginning his career with Shell Oil Company in June, 1967. Since he left Shell, he has worked or consulted for various independents until starting with Headington Oil Company in early 1998. The primary focus of his career has been the Williston Basin, although he has also conducted considerable work in most Rocky Mountain basins.  Lately, his time has been dedicated to the development of Headington’s interests in the extremely active Bakken development area in Richland County, MT, and to the extension of that activity into North Dakota. Bill is an AAPG Certified Petroleum Geologist and a Registered Professional Geologist in the State of Wyoming.


Return to top.