UPDATED: ND Oil Production Held Steady In March At Over 1 Million Barrels Per Day

WILLISTON, N.D. — North Dakota oil production held steady in March, dropping less than 1 percent to an average of nearly 1.03 million barrels per day, the Department of Mineral Resources said Friday, May 12.

Hydraulic fracturing crews made significant progress in March on wells that had been drilled but not completed, said Director Lynn Helms.

At the end of March, the state had an estimated 689 wells drilled but waiting on fracking crews, a drop of 110 from a month earlier.

That work, along with a drop in inactive wells, brought North Dakota’s total number of producing wells to 13,632 in March, a new all-time high based on preliminary figures.

Over the summer, Helms said he expects oil production to remain steady or increase slightly, as long as oil prices “don’t take a dive.”

Helms said he’s concerned about the impacts on the price of oil if the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries doesn’t extend oil production cuts.

“I think we should really be watching out for that,” he said.

North Dakota had 51 drilling rigs active on Friday, compared to 27 a year ago at this time and 85 two years ago.

The state’s rig count is expected to decrease if the price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil drops below $45 a barrel for more than 30 days, Helms said. The WTI price was about $48 on Friday, according to Bloomberg.

Natural gas production increased 1.4 percent in March to more than 1.7 billion cubic feet per day as operators focus on the core of the Bakken where wells produce more gas.

Natural gas flaring decreased from 11 percent in February to 10.5 percent in March.

The Bureau of Land Management methane rule, which the U.S. Senate failed to overturn this week, could create a “tug of war” between state and federal regulations next year, Helms said.

In the early years of the BLM rule, the requirements for capturing natural gas on federal lands are less strict than the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s statewide rules, he said.

“For six years on federal lands, operators will be able to flare significantly more gas than they can on state lands,” Helms said.

North Dakota joined other states to challenge the rule in court, with a decision expected before January of 2018 when the rule would start having an impact, Helms said.

The state saw a slight uptick in rail transportation of crude oil in March, with 27 percent traveling by rail while 58 percent was transported by pipeline, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

Rail transportation is expected to decline after the Dakota Access Pipeline begins flowing crude oil on June 1. Pipeline Authority Director Justin Kringstad said he expects some rail shipments of Bakken crude will continue, with the West Coast as the primary destination.

A train carrying crude oil passes through Williston, N.D., on Friday, May 12, 2017. Amy Dalrymple / Forum News Service