For months now, I've been looking at the North Dakota crude prices and wondering what the difference is between "N.D. sour" and "N.D. sweet."
We publish the market prices every day. On Friday, the sweet price was $80 per barrel, while the sour price was $76.64.
I called Empire Oil, the Williston company that gives us the prices every day, about the difference, and they put me in touch with Ian Vestal, a land man.
Vestal told me the sweet stuff is basically a better-quality crude. Sweet does not have to be refined as much as the sour crude, therefore it's worth more.
For a more in-depth answer, Vestal suggested I speak with his father, Rich Vestal, who has a long history in oil production.
So I called Rich Vestal, who happened to be with long-time oil man Dale Branson at the time, and they told me the difference between sweet and sour crude boils down to the sulphur content.
To be counted as "sweet" the sulphur content has to be less than 5 percent, anything more and it's classified as "sour."
"High sulphur crude is very, very thick," Branson said. "You can smell it."
And the more sulphur the crude has in it, the more "sour" it smells, kind of like a rotten egg.
However, just about all the crude that comes out of the Bakken nowadays is sweet.
"It's the highest quality of crude there is," the oil men told me.
Pure Bakken oil looks like a fresh glass of iced tea, they said.
That statement almost made me thirsty, but then I remembered I'm talking about oil. And it's hard to talk about oil without also taking about money: Texas T, black gold, etc. etc.
For months, I've also wondered why oil on the world market is always higher than our local prices.
The price of oil on the world market was $89 a barrel Friday, that's $9 more than Bakken sweet.
"On a world market … it's typically $10 to $12 more," said Ian Vestal, adding regional prices, no matter where, will usually be lower than the world market price.
Well, I guess I’m up to speed on sweet and sour oil. Now, for a glass of fresh iced … tea. And I prefer sweet.