Until 2000, the Williston Basin’s Bak­ken Formation had been a bailout zone. When a well targeting another formation wasn’t going to pay, the Bakken was tapped for what little the super-tight rock would give up. The investors might recoup some of what they spent.

Burlington Resources Inc. had tried tap­ping the formation with horizontals in the late 1980s and into the early 1990s. It had some initial indication of success in a sweet spot in western North Dakota.

But it had been landing the laterals in the upper Bakken—a shale member—and hadn’t been fracking them. The wells dried up fast while trying to move oil out of nearly solid rock. The play was declared dead in a 1996 re­port by the North Dakota Geological Survey.

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