First assessment of NWT shales suggests multibillion barrel resource

An estimated 145 billion bbl of oil in place are in the Canol shale in Canada’s Northwest Territories, while the thinner Bluefish shale could contain 45 billion bbl in place, Canada’s National Energy Board and Northwest Territories jointly said on May 22 in the first government assessment of the formations’ resource potential.

They emphasized that the amount of recoverable oil was not estimated because well test results are not publicly available yet, and it’s still not certain whether the shales are capable of production. However, if only 1% of the Canol shale’s in-place resource was recovered, it would represent a 1.45 billion bbl marketable resource, they added.

The shales extend along the McKenzie Plain between the McKenzie and Franklin Mountains. The plain is part of the Mackenzie Arc exploration region, which is within the Northern Canadian Mainland Sedimentary Basin, NEB said.

It said the oil and gas industry has recently been targeting the Canol shale: 14 exploration licenses have been granted there since 2010-11 for a total of $627.5 million (Can.) in work-bid commitments. Seven exploration wells have been drilled since 2012, it added.

Oil in place volumes were calculated using a probability model that recently was used to assess volumes in British Columbia’s Montney formation and Saskatchewan’s Bakken formation, NEB said.

The closest available comparison in the Canol shale’s recoverability is the Permian basin of Texas, where operators report expected recovery factors around 3%, it indicated.

Large areas of the Canol shale are at much shallower depths than these other shale oil prospects, and the lower pressures might make oil recovery more difficult, it cautioned. If it is possible to recover 3% of what’s believed to be there, however, the Canol could produce 4.35 billion bbl, NEB said.

Contact Nick Snow at

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