What’s New at the North Dakota Geological Survey?

Title: What’s New at the North Dakota Geological Survey?
Author: John P. Bluemle, State Geologist
Publication: The Outcrop, July 2004, p. 1, 6-7

Ours is a relatively small state survey. We have eight geologists and 12 administrative, technical, and support staff. The technicians include four who are assigned exclusively to compiling and digitizing soils data, a ten-year project that will be completed in 2005 (slightly ahead of schedule).

The North Dakota Legislature appropriated $2.4 million from the general fund for the Geological Survey for the 2003-2005 biennium, down eight percent from last biennium. Our total staff was also cut by two from last biennium.

In addition to cuts in funding and staffing, which are typical of cuts imposed on many state agencies in North Dakota, the Senate Appropriations Committee added a last-minute amendment to our appropriation bill, requiring a study leading to a merger of the Geological Survey and the Oil and Gas Division. Both agencies are currently separate entities within the State Industrial Commission, but the merged agency will be under the direction of the Director of the Oil and Gas Division. The study, and recommendations, are due prior to the beginning of the next Legislative Session in January 2005, with the actual merger to be accomplished effective July 1, 2005.

Williston Basin Petroleum Conference

The North Dakota Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Saskatchewan Industry and Resources, has organized and hosted an annual horizontal well and petroleum conference for the past dozen years. The series of conferences has been remarkably successful in promoting communication and transfer of technology among U.S. and Canadian oil-industry personnel.

Industry representatives from various educational backgrounds and specialty fields participate in the conferences, including people from disciplines other than geology. The conferences provide an informal atmosphere for exchanging information and ideas, making contacts, and identifying future exploration opportunities in the Williston Basin. Participants have been nearly uniformly enthusiastic about the conference format. The Twelfth Horizontal Well & Petroleum Conference was held in Minot, North Dakota, May 2 – 4, 2004.

Geologic Mapping

Georgia Knauss, a graduate student at the University of Iowa, (holding diagram) provided an interpretation of the K/T boundary at the Mud Buttes Site. She and others are standing on the K/T boundary. The Paleocene Ludlow Formation is above and the Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation is below the K/T boundary.

We are emphasizing detailed (1:24,000-scale) geologic mapping of urban areas. Our recent mapping has focused on the Jamestown, Bismarck, Devils Lake, and Dickinson areas. We have identified geologic hazards and noted specific avoidance areas for development, as well as locating potential sand and gravel and other mineral resources.

We recently mapped the surface geology in and around both units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the associated Elkhorn Ranch site as a means of contributing to economic development from tourism. We also mapped the kaolinitic-rich clays near a brick plant in western North Dakota, enabling the company to continue its operations without relocating. We are now doing a preliminary assessment of the surface geology in and around the Fargo and Grand Forks areas, prior to initiating detailed mapping there.

Our geologic mapping program is partially funded by the National Mapping (STATEMAP) Program. This is particularly important because only about 4% of North Dakota is covered by detailed geologic maps. Since 1992, we have completed fifty-six 7.5-minute geologic quadrangle maps and seven maps at the 1:100,000 scale.


We recently completed several excavations and fossil resource inventories throughout the State. We are conducting a series of public fossil excavations as part of the State’s Nature-Based Tourism Plan. In addition to our ongoing additions to the fossil exhibits at the State Museum in Bismarck, we provide exhibits for local museums as part of our Outreach Program.

Dr. John Hoganson of the North Dakota Geological Survey acted as a co-host for a field trip, held as part of the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, in St. Paul, Minn. The pre-meeting field trip through North Dakota was held October 12-14, 2003. A group of 27 paleontologists toured several of North Dakota’s outstanding vertebrate fossil sites.

Technical paleontological research includes studies of:

  • evidence for the extinction of cartilaginous fish at the end of the Cretaceous;
  • the stratigraphy, age, and vertebrate fossil record of the marine Breien Member of the Cretaceous Hell Creek Formation;
  • the paleontology of Theodore Roosevelt National Park; and
  • vertebrate fossils in the Cretaceous Fox Hills Formation in North Dakota.

Other Geologic Projects and Activities

In addition to the items already mentioned, our geologists are involved in a variety of on-going projects including studies of:

  • various natural hazards such as landslide problems, with compilation of a series of landslide maps covering western North Dakota;
  • sediment-yield of stock ponds on federal land of the Little Missouri National Grasslands to determine erosion rates in grassland and badlands environments;
  • a volcanic ash deposit in the south-central part of the State.

Petroleum geology studies include:

  • the Red River B Cedar Hills Field in Bowman County to characterize and understand production patterns and mechanisms of this giant field (estimated recovery >155 million barrels of oil);
  • the Bakken and Lodgepole formations, collection and compilation of information into a database to be used to generate a series of isopach maps; we hope to provide pertinent information that may enable oil explorationists to extend the current, successful Montana-Bakken play into North Dakota;
  • an analysis of the Lodgepole-Waulsortian mound play in central Montana to see if potential exists for additional, similar plays at various stratigraphic levels in North Dakota.

Weyburn Monitoring Project

The North Dakota Geological Survey is part of an international consortium of private companies, government agencies and academic institutions conducting research for the International Energy Agency (IEA) Weyburn CO2 Monitoring and Storage Project. The project area centers on southern Saskatchewan, and our geologists are mapping subsurface strata within the part of the area that extends into North Dakota. We are identifying selected subsurface intervals at the sub-formation level so that the various aquifers and aquicludes can be accurately mapped. Our data are tied into the Saskatchewan database to provide subsurface coverage over the entire project area to enable mapping of regional structure and groundwater flow paths and units, and to help identify possible routes that leaking CO2 might take. We expect to develop geochemical models to determine how the CO2 will be sequestered. The study is important to North Dakota because:

  • it tests CO2-enhanced oil recovery technology in strata that produce in the State;
  • North Dakota is the CO2 source; and
  • many North Dakota oil fields are amenable to CO2-enhanced oil recovery projects.

The Weyburn Project is globally significant because it is one of the most comprehensive studies directly focused, not only on assessing whether CO2 can be both safely and economically sequestered, but also toward developing a protocol for future CO2 sequestration projects.

Geochemical Survey

We are completing an ambitious statewide geochemical study to provide detailed, baseline information on solid-phase geochemistry in North Dakota. This study is being performed in cooperation with the USGS, with help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and North Dakota State University. The project is part of a nationwide effort to create a geochemical database for the entire country that will provide a statistically valid source of unbiased, background information on a suite of more than 20 trace elements such as arsenic, selenium, and mercury.

l & c cover 2_bw
Cover of John W. Hoganson and Edward C. Murphy’s recent book about the geology of the Lewis and Clark Trail, published by Mountain Press, Missoula, Montana.

Our geochemical study involves the collection of approximately 2,000 soil and stream sediment samples from 735 randomly-selected sites within a statewide grid (10 x 10 mile squares). We expect to complete the study by early summer 2004 and the full analytical data set should be available shortly thereafter.

Earth Science Outreach

Two of our geologists recently wrote a book on the geology along the Missouri River route followed by Lewis and Clark (Geology of the Lewis & Clark Trail in North Dakota by John W. Hoganson, and Edward C. Murphy published by Mountain Press, Missoula, MT). Sales of the book have been excellent, and John and Ed have been busy since the book was published, giving lectures and attending book-signing ceremonies.

Additional information regarding activities and publications of the North Dakota Geological Survey may be viewed on the survey website: http://www.state.nd.us/ndgs.