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North Dakota rig count continues to sink

State oil and gas director expects market weakness to last into the third quarter.
By Daniel J. Graeber Follow @dan_graeber Contact the Author   |   March 14, 2016 at 8:52 AM
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BISMARCK, N.D., March 14 (UPI) -- Despite last week's rally in crude oil prices, North Dakota continued to witness a decline in exploration and production activity, state data show.

The state government reports 32 rigs engaged in exploration and production activities in the state, an 8.5 percent decline from last week and 71 percent less than this date last year. Rig counts were in the single digits in the 1980s and exploded to more than 200 in 2012. The all-time low point is zero.

Lower crude oil prices mean energy companies have designated less capital for exploration and production activity during the first quarter. Continental Resources and Hess Corp., two of the largest players in the state's Bakken shale oil basin, separately announced plans to reduce spending on exploration and production this year.

North Dakota is the No. 2 oil producer in the nation, behind Texas. State data show crude oil production in January, the last full month for which data are available, was 1.12 million barrels per day, a 2.6 percent decline from December and 8 percent lower than the all-time high recorded in December 2014.

The shale-rich state started 2016 with 60 rigs in active service.

U.S. crude oil prices started the year at around $36.81 per barrel, dipped below $30 in January and February, and have since rallied to just over $37 per barrel. Trends in rig activity show most U.S. players remain cautious about the potential for a major sector recovery.

"Oil price weakness is now anticipated to last into at least the third quarter of this year and is the main reason for the continued slow-down," Lynn Helms, the director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, said in a statement.

Oil field services company Baker Hughes in a weekly report on rig activity said work in the United States has dropped to a low point not seen in more than a half century. Oil rig deployments dropped six from the week ending March 11 to 386, the twelfth week in a row for a decline.

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