Adventures In Mapmaking: Mapping A Fracking Boom In North Dakota


January 7, 2015 | Wired |  Mason Inman

To our already extensive collection of cool maps of the Bakken oil field, Wired’s Mason Inman offers this latest posting, with extensive detail on where he got his data and how he uses it. Inman comes at this story with a critical question: How much oil and gas do these shale fields actually contain? He explored that in a recent story entitled “The Fracking Fallacy” in the journal Nature. That story, which called into question bullish forecasts for natural gas production, created a great deal of controversy and pushback, as we reported here. Now Inman is trying to map out what is actually happening in the Bakken oil fields in order to track trends in shale oil. Why does that matter? He explains:

If we have a realistic sense of the size of the resource available, and plan for the long term, we could make a smooth transition away from oil and gas, toward other options with much lower greenhouse gas emissions, such as wind and solar, and also make stronger efforts for energy efficiency. On the other hand, if our estimates and forecasts for oil and gas are too optimistic, we could wind up in a bind, dependent on fossil fuels that are significantly more expensive than we’d expected.

As one of his sources for this map-making project, Inman used one of the most innovative maps we’ve seen on the Bakken: the New York Times’ “Pipes On The Prairie” piece not only pinpointed the well sites, but graphically displayed the underground drill lines standing upright like a vast array of soldiers on a battlefield.

Inside Energy has contributed a few of its own maps to this collection, including one in this story that shows saltwater spills over the course of a year, and this one that maps out where falling oil prices may hurt the most.