UND rock library looks to preserve core of energy industry

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. (AP) — A few hours’ drive from the Bakken oil fields lies a treasure trove for geologists: rock from nearly every oil well ever drilled in North Dakota, under one roof.

The rock is tucked neatly into cardboard boxes stacked on numerous warehouse storage shelves in the Wilson M. Laird Core and Sample Library on the University of North Dakota campus in Grand Forks.

“We’ve got about enough core to lay out from here to Fargo, 85 miles or so,” director Jeff Bader said.

The library is part of the North Dakota Geological Survey and houses two forms of rock: core and drill cuttings. Core refers to cylinders of rock that oil companies pull out of the ground by attaching special bits to the end of their drills that make clean cuts as they preserve large chunks. Coring often is done when companies explore new places to establish wells.

Cuttings are smaller pieces of rock chopped up by a different type of bit. They are brought to the earth’s surface in a muddy mixture, then washed off and analyzed to determine which rock formations the company is drilling through. That ensures an oil well is placed exactly where it’s intended to go.

By state law, oil companies typically have six months to keep their core and cutting samples before they must send them to the library, The Bismarck Tribune reported.

The library has grown with the state’s petroleum industry, giving decades of geologists the opportunity to use its rocks to pinpoint where their companies should drill next. That work isn’t likely to stop anytime soon, and lately the library has found additional purpose as the energy industry eyes new ways to make use of rock buried thousands of feet below the North Dakota prairie.

The library spans 52,000 square feet and includes three labs with lengthy tables where geologists can lay out numerous boxes for their research.