In Search of the Next Bakken Shale Oil Field

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Fracking technology has reshaped the U.S. energy industry by opening up vast shale oil and gas fields that were previously uneconomical to exploit.

Now, following half a decade of rapid growth, so-called unconventional oil accounts for about 2 million barrels per day of production in 2012.

So much oil is being produced domestically, in fact, that six companies including the world's largest oil trader Vitol and Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE ADR: RDS.A) have applied to the U.S. government for energy export licenses. If approved, it will be the first such exports to occur in decades.

It is expected that, by 2020, unconventional oil production will be at the 4.5 million barrel per day level.

This is a familiar story to energy investors. The names of the best known shale oil fields such as Bakken, Eagle Ford and Utica are very recognizable to these investors.

But some other names are less well-known and are worth investigating.

Unknown Shale Oil Fields

Some of the lesser-known shale oil fields that hold a lot of potential include the Niobara Shale in Colorado, the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale in Louisiana and Mississippi, the Cana Woodward Shale in Oklahoma, the Mowry and Baxter Shales in Wyoming, and the Monterey Shale in California.

Jim Mulva, the former CEO of ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP), said earlier this year for energy investors to "look for all of these [fields] to become even more familiar names going forward." Since development of these fields is just beginning, he said "At this early stage, it's certainly very exciting."

And he's right.

Even Alaska, already a vast oil producer, has large shale oil deposits ready to be exploited. Its North Slope shale formation may hold as much as 2 billion barrels of oil. That would be the second-largest U.S. deposit of unconventional crude after the Bakken in North Dakota and larger than the Eagle Ford in Texas.

But, of course, harsh conditions there will make it very difficult to access these resources.

California, Here We Drill?

Another area with vast shale oil potential is California's Monterey Shale. It is located underneath much of southern California, terminating near Santa Barbara.

The very thick and relatively shallow resource is huge. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, it has 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil. That is four times as much as the Bakken formation in North Dakota!

The situation in California is unique in many ways.

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