SHSND Home > North Dakota History > Unit 7: Pretty Good Times on the Prairie, 1945 > Oil Development

Unit 7: Set 1. Oil Development - Introduction

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Many people guessed that North Dakota’s soil could produce more than wheat. Mineral rights and oil leases began changing hands in an uncertain market early in the twentieth century. Tom Leach was one of North Dakota’s leading independent oil geologists. He convinced the Amerada Oil Company to drill in eastern Williams County near Tioga. On April 4, 1951, drillers at the Clarence Iverson Number 1 struck oil. With this discovery, North Dakota opened its oil patch in the Williston Basin. As of August 2008, the Williston Basin has produced more than 5 billion barrels of oil in North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.

Production of the early oil fields peaked in 1982 and then began a decline that left some towns desperate to fill empty houses and schools that had been built during the boom. In 2007, news about the Bakken formation brought high hopes back to the West River country. The Bakken is expected to produce several billion barrels of oil.

The state legislature taxed production on the wells, and producing wells located on state land paid a lease fee.  Two documents presented here for the month of August 1954 indicate that $1,012.51 in taxes was paid to the state from Amerada Oil Co. Each well also paid leases to the State Land Office as indicated on Form 13 S.O.P. 7-51.

The statistics presented in this document set were taken from a small publication titled Oil Statistics 1989 which was published by the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties as a project of the state’s centennial. These few pages of statistics indicate the change in oil production in twenty-three counties from 1950 to 1983. If you would like to know more about recent oil production including the Bakken, see the reports at

SHSND Main Collection 338.27282 039 1989

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