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How can America be more competitive as far as retrieving oil supplies here at home? The issue has been that until recently we might have known there was oil trapped underground but there was no way to get to it. Later horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing made it possible to extract the oil and then the challenge became how to transport the oil to a refinery. Until pipelines extend the entire length of the country, transporting oil will have to be done using trucks and railcars.

One of the most well-known oil sources of late is the Bakken oil play, that spreads through parts of Montana, North Dakota, and sections of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Canada. The Bakken was discovered in 1951 but at that time there was no way to reach the crude oil trapped in the shale. High oil prices coupled with advances in drilling technology have enabled independent oil companies to increase the Bakken’s production. Technology is more precise now so it’s not necessary to drill 20 wells when two or three get the same or better recovery. Horizontal drilling is more expensive than vertical drilling, but the greater productivity is what makes it the preferred method used for extraction.

Since the pipeline does not reach far enough north for the Bakken oil play, other means of transport must be used. First, the extracted crude is stored in floating roof tanks. Then tanker trucks draw the oil from storage and take it to a terminal located near a railway station. There, rail cars are waiting to be filled with the oil. This process is transloading – taking product from one vehicle and putting it into another.

Once the rail cars are loaded, they can begin the trip south to the pipeline. When the cars are close to the refinery location a reverse transloading process takes place – moving the oil from rail cars to trucks and finally to the refinery. While this process is more labor intensive and expensive than connecting directly to the main pipeline the Bakken produces enough crude right now to make the transportation process, extra time and added cost worthwhile.

Whether the original residents like it or not, their once peaceful expanse of land is now booming with business. They may have moved into the frozen wilderness to get away from the traffic, pollution and noise of the big city but now the Bakken oil play is bringing people in from all over the country to work in high paying jobs. That means there is a huge demand for housing, schools, restaurants and more. What was once wilderness is now becoming a boomtown with jobs, money and crude oil flowing freely.

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