Alison Ritter's past year has been a crash course in North Dakota's mineral resources, more specifically oil and gas.
Ritter was hired last year as the public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources in Bismarck, starting the job in September 2011.
In slightly more than a year, she's learned about the skyrocketing oil and gas development in North Dakota, but also other mineral resources in the state.
Eloise Ogden/MDN • Alison Ritter is public information officer for the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources in Bismarck. She’s holding samples of the Bakken Formation layers of rock.
Last week, when Lynn Helms, Mineral Resources Department director, could not give a presentation at the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce's Energy Committee meeting, Ritter filled in. Helms' schedule had changed and that day he was at the budget meeting for the N.D. Legislature.
Ritter told the Minot group that North Dakota is not alone in shale development.
"There's about 45 shale plays going on in North America right now, six of which are oil and gas," she said. "The big thing to point out is we're the Bakken here in North Dakota. We're kind of revolutionizing the way these shale plays are being developed. We have competition no less in the Eagle Ford in south Texas."
She said there is much potential for North America to be energy independent.
If federal drilling is opened up and along with the Bakken potential and Eagle Ford Barnett shale, "we could be energy independent somewhere within 10 years," she said. But a number of policies would have to change for that to happen so it just remains to be seen. "The potential is there so that's the good news," she added.
She said that recently the Eagle Ford in south Texas had about 285 drilling rigs running there. On May 29, she said 218 rigs were actively drilling in North Dakota.
As of Thursday, 182 rigs were actively drilling in the state, according to the Oil and Gas Division's website.
Ritter started giving presentations for the department in July, first to the Bismarck Chapter of the Farm Credit Council, followed by one in her home state of Iowa, to the Iowa Petroleum Marketers in Des Moines.
Ritter said Helms, who has more than 30 years of experience in oil and gas in North Dakota and other states, and also an extensive knowledge of the state's other mineral resources, is a "tough act" to follow but she's pushing forward.
If someone asks Ritter a question, she said she's not afraid to tell them she does not know the answer but she will get the answer for them.
She tells her audiences that the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources includes the N.D. Geological Survey, "the eyes and ears on the ground who lets us know what is happening before industry does," and the N.D. Oil and Gas Division is "the regulatory arm which has the rules and regulations and is the enforcement branch."
Originally from West Des Moines, Iowa, before joining the Mineral Resources Department, Ritter worked in TV news and sports.
A few months after joining the Mineral Resources Department, Ritter and her husband, Bryce, who works with an engineering company in Bismarck, welcomed their new son, Boedy, into the world. Boedy is now 8 1/2 months old.
Ritter explained to the Minot Energy Committee that the Bakken producer area the Bakken Mature Area in western North Dakota has a 99.9 percent success rate for companies.
She said oil was formed millions and millions of years ago in the Bakken, a formation comprised of layers of rock the upper Bakken, middle Bakken, lower Bakken and the Three Forks.
New technology has enabled getting the oil out of the rocks, she said.
"We knew it was there but without today's current technology we haven't been able to get it."
She said if anyone figures out how to get 1 percent more oil that's 3 billion more barrels of oil then even more oil could be recovered.
"Right now we're only taking about 2 percent from each well," she said.
The focus is on the Bakken, but Ritter said there's more than that going for North Dakota.
She said operators are trying to decide how prolific the Tyler Formation in the southwestern part of the state will be.
"Lynn estimates about 2,500 wells are going to cover that area. It's still in its very early stages and that's just because people aren't venturing out. They're still focusing on the Bakken," she said.
She said the Spearfish Formation in Bottineau County has some interest.
"We're estimating about 2,500 wells," she said. She said three oil companies are operating there and there is one drilling rig in Bottineau County. She said there's still a lot of work to be done but the potential is there.
The Red River Formation already has many oil wells in Golden Valley and Bowman counties, "We're estimating an additional 100 wells down there," she said.
In the Mission Canyon Formation in Burke and Renville counties, she said they're taking old vertical wells, re-entering them and using horizontal technology.
"There are wells that have had a little bit of success but they're still trying to see how far out they can go, the stage fracture that's going to work but I think it's cool they're thinking enough in advance to go down in those old vertical wells and apply today's technology," she said.
Ritter has given presentations to a variety of groups in state and out of state. She has two more presentations scheduled before the end of this month today in Dickinson to members of the N.D. Department of Transportation and Wednesday in Belfield to the Southwest Ag Producers.
Ritter said her work at the department has been demanding and challenging but "the best 15 months I've ever had."