Oil production

Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, was in a good mood in Bismarck on Tuesday, June 17, 2014, after announcing oil production in North Dakota passed the one million barrels a day milestone in the month of April.

BISMARCK, N.D. — A milestone anticipated for several months has finally been reached, with North Dakota oil production inching over 1 million barrels per day.

Preliminary oil production figures released Tuesday by the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources put April production at 1,001,149 barrels per day — an increase of nearly 24,000 from the March tally of 977,178 barrels per day.

"Pretty unique territory," Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said.

North Dakota joins Texas as the only states producing more than 1 million barrels of oil per day. Texas is producing just more than 2 million barrels per day.

The Canadian province of Alberta and fewer than 20 countries worldwide have production of more than 1 million barrels per day.

A series of rough winter months and annual load restrictions in the spring delayed North Dakota from attaining the milestone.

Helms said the percentage of natural gas flaring in the state fell to 30 percent in April, from 33 percent in March.

"I had hoped to see lower 20s," Helms said. "They didn't reach full capacity until the very end of the month."

Flaring had remained at a record 36 percent for several months while Hess Corp.'s Tioga gas plant was off line during the final stage of an expansion project.

According to the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration approximately 1 percent of all natural gas in the country is flared. Department data also show that while North Dakota accounted for only 0.5 percent of all natural gas drawn from plays in the U.S. from 2008-12, it has accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s flared gas.

Helms said approximately 165 gas capture plans have been submitted to his office since June 1, when a requirement to submit them along with drilling permits took effect.

New rules were approved by the North Dakota Industrial Commission earlier this year as the result of the work of a natural gas flaring task force. The goal is to reduce flaring to 15 percent within two years and 10 percent within six.

"This has been a really huge sea-change in the industry," Helms said.

The industry has been very cooperative, he said. The issue of flaring was an instance where after a certain point the state needed to step in with more regulations, he said.

"There are cases where the market fails to achieve the desired result," Helms said. "I don't think we would've seen this kind of cooperation (otherwise)."

Outside of daily production and flaring April statistics showed increases in several key areas.

  • Preliminary April numbers showed 10,658 total wells statewide in production, up from 10,472 in March.
  • Natural gas production in April hit approximately 1.13 billion cubic feet per day, up from 1.086 billion cubic feet per day in March.
  • Six hundred wells were waiting on completion from hydraulic fracturing, down from 635 in March. Helms said he expects an increase in drilling over the summer months to make a dent in that total and bring the backlog closer to the historical average of 250 to 300.

The preliminary total for statewide oil production in April was approximately 30.33 million barrels. It was up slightly from the final tally of 30.3 million barrels reported in March.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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