Discover More

An Introduction to the Bakken Formation

The Bakken Formation is located in western North Dakota, eastern Montana, and southern Saskatchewan, Canada, as a subsurface formation within the Williston Basin. The Williston Basin extends to southwestern Manitoba, east-central North Dakota, northwestern South Dakota, eastern Montana, and southern Saskatchewan. The central and deepest basement location is approximately 15,000 feet, near Williston, North Dakota. Major structural features within the basin include the Nesson and Cedar Creek Anticlines.

Bakken Formation Map


The Bakken Formation is both Devonian and Mississippian in age as the chronostratigraphic contact lies approximately within the upper portion of the Middle Member. This contact is based largely on studies of conodont fossils1 present within the formation. The stratigraphic units in the image to the right represent a time period that lasted from 416 to 318 million years ago. The Bakken Formation was deposited approximately 360 million years ago.


The Bakken Formation comprises three distinct members. The upper and lower members are black, organic-rich shales and are widely recognized as world-class source rocks. These members also serve as very effective seals, owing to their very low permeability. Permeability ranges from 0.01 to 20 mD. The Middle Member is the primary oil-producing member and predominantly composed of siltstones and sandstones but also has low porosity (1%-15%) and permeability (0-20 millidarcies), particularly for a reservoir rock.

Because of the strong contrast in lithology, the Bakken Formation is readily recognizable in wireline logs. The Upper and Lower Shales have unusually high gamma ray readings and high resistivity, while the Middle Member has a signature similar to clastic and carbonate rocks.

Photos of cores from different Bakken units for lithology identification data acquisition.


Current oil production activity has focused on the Middle Member as well as the underlying Three Forks Formation. The thickest area of the Bakken Formation is southeast of Tioga, North Dakota, T. 155N., R. 94W., Section 15, where it reaches 145–150 feet. This area is located at the eastern base of the Nesson Anticline. The formation generally thins evenly toward the margins of the Williston Basin. The Middle and Lower Members of the Bakken share a similar isopachous2 trend (maximum thickness 75 and 55 feet, respectively); however, the upper shale demonstrates distributed areas of maximum thickness near the eastern and southern marginal shelf in North Dakota, in addition to maximum thickness near Tioga.

The overlying Lodgepole Formation consists of dense limestone and calcareous shale with minor amounts of chert3 and anhydrite4, with a maximum thickness of 900 feet in eastern McKenzie, North Dakota. The Bakken is underlain by the Three Forks Formation, which has a maximum thickness of 250 feet in eastern McKenzie County. The Three Forks Formation consists of shales, dolostones, siltstones, sandstones, and minor occurrences of anhydrite.

  1. Conodont fossils: a group of extinct microfossils known from the Late Cambrian (approximately 500 million years ago) to the Late Triassic (about 200 million years ago)
  2. Isopachous: Having the same geological thickness
  3. Chert: a hard, fine-grained sedimentary rock composed of microcrystalline or cryptocrystalline quartz, the mineral form of silicon dioxide (SiO2)
  4. Anhydrite: a mineral with the chemical formula CaSO4

1 thought on “An Introduction to the Bakken Formation”

  1. Pingback: Our Roots Run Deep

Leave a Reply