Data from North Dakota show exploration and production activity in the shale-rich state may be stabilizing. UPI/Gary C. Caskey | License Photo
BISMARCK, N.D., Oct. 26 (UPI) -- The number of rigs actively exploring for or producing oil and gas in North Dakota held steady for the third straight week, state data show.
The North Dakota Industrial Commission reports 68 rigs in service as of Monday, unchanged for the last three weeks.
Rig counts serve as a barometer for the health of an energy sector burdened by depressed crude oil prices, down roughly 45 percent from this time last year. The price for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for crude oil prices, of $44.60 per barrel is down about 8 percent from the start of October.
Year-on-year, the number of rigs in service in North Dakota, the No. 2 oil producer in the nation, is down 65 percent. In terms of oil production, 1.18 million barrels of oil per day was produced in August, the last full month for which data are available. That's down about 1.6 percent from July and 3.3 percent lower than the all-time high of 1.22 million bpd, reported in December 2014.
The rig count in North Dakota in August was about 73, about 7 percent higher than Monday. Nationwide, oil services company Baker Hughes reported the number of rigs deployed for the week ending Oct. 16 was down by one from the previous week.
NDIC Director Lynn Helms said in a mid-October report most energy companies working in the shale-rich state were running fewer rigs than they planned for the year not only because of lower crude oil prices, but also because rig efficiencies have improved.
Helms said the state-wide rig count was about a dozen less than it would be if oil was priced as $65 per barrel. The weak oil economy, he added, is expected to last "well into next year."
North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said the state's economy was managing the oil price downturn in part because of the emphasis on diversity that extended beyond the oil and gas sector.
The state has created 123,000 new jobs since 2004, a 36.6 percent gain, and personal income has increased by more than 40 percent.