John Bartelson, who smokes Marlboro Lights through fingers blackened with tractor grease, may look like an average wheat farmer. He isn't. He's one of North Dakota's new oil barons.
Every month, he gets a check for tens of thousands of dollars from Houston company EOG Resources, which drilled two oil wells on his land last year. He says the day his first royalty check arrived was one to remember.
"I smiled to beat hell, and I went to town and had a beer," Bartelson, 65, says.
His new wealth springs from the Bakken formation, a sprawling deposit of high-quality crude beneath the durum wheat fields of North Dakota, Montana and southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The Bakken may give the U.S. — the world's biggest importer of oil — a new domestic energy source.
Unlike the tar from Canada's oil sands, Bakken crude needs little refining. Swirl some of it in a Mason jar and it leaves a thin, honey-colored film along the sides. It's light — almost like gasoline — and sweet, meaning it's low in sulfur.
Best of all, the Bakken could be huge. The U.S. Geological Survey's Leigh Price, a Denver geochemist who died in 2000, estimated that the Bakken might hold 413 billion barrels. If so, it would dwarf Saudi Arabia's Ghawar, the world's biggest field, which has produced about 55 billion barrels.
High oil prices are the cure for high oil prices. The laws of supply and demand have not been repealed.