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Oil companies in North Dakota awakening

North Dakota crude oil production gains 7 percent as market recovery gains traction.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Oil companies in North Dakota awakening
North Dakota crude oil production gains strength as operators start to return slowly to work as oil prices recover. Photo by photostock77/Shutterstock

BISMARCK, N.D., Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Energy companies working in North Dakota are shifting from a position of reserve to one of optimism with oil prices in recovery, a state leader said.

North Dakota is the No. 2 oil producer in the United States, behind Texas, and host to significant portions of the Bakken and Three Forks shale oil and natural gas basins. Crude oil production from North Dakota peaked in 2014, when oil was trading near the $100 per barrel mark, at 1.2 million barrels per day, but faltered since oil dipped below $30 per barrel early this year.

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Lynn Helms, the director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, said in a statement that a price recovery that follows a decision from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries was welcome news for the state.

"Operators are shifting from running the minimum number of rigs to incremental increases throughout 2017, as long as oil prices remain between $50 per barrel and $60 per barrel for West Texas Intermediate," he said in a monthly report.

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Even with a slump in prices in early Wednesday trading, WTI was priced above $52 per barrel. That's 20 percent, or almost $10 per barrel, higher than one month ago.

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Total crude oil production for October, the last full month for which data are available, was 1.04 million bpd, a 7 percent increase from September. WTI entered October at $48.80 per barrel.

Recovery was apparent in figures that reflect activity in the exploration and production side of the industry. State data show 40 rigs actively exploring for or producing oil and natural gas as of early Wednesday. If both sets of data are aligned, that would be a 25 percent increase over what oilfield services company Baker Hughes reported Friday.

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The NDIC said there were 13,457 wells in production in the state, up 79 from September and a new all-time high for the state. More than 80 percent of those wells are in the Bakken shale.

OPEC's production agreement aims to correct an over-supplied market for oil. If oil prices move too high, companies working in more expensive areas like North Dakota could return to work in earnest and push markets back toward the supply side.

In early December, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said OPEC's decision would benefit her state as well, which accounts for about 4 percent of the nation's total oil production. Fallin declared a statewide day of prayer for the oil sector early this year as lower oil prices crimped the Oklahoma economy.

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