A gusher of an oil well in McKenzie County has the attention of regulators in North Dakota.

A well producing 5,000 barrels of oil per day northwest of Watford City was highlighted by Department of Mineral Resources director Lynn Helms during his monthly webcast last week.

The well is on confidential status, so public information is restricted. The county also has 58 rigs drilling there now, so new producing wells are almost an everyday occurrence.

However, Helms did say the well’s dramatic number may be related to the quality of proppant material used during the multiple hydraulic fracture stages.

It’s not clear if 5,000 barrels per day reflects the well’s initial production, which in the case of Bakken wells tends to decline fairly rapidly, or whether the production is holding up over a longer period of weeks or even months.

According to state oil and gas rules, producing wells can remain confidential for up to six months. Wells that come off confidential status are listed on the department’s website and reported production ranges from lows of 100 barrels of oil per day, up to more than 2,700 barrels per day.

A well that maintains 5,000 barrels daily would be impressive, says Monte Besler, an experienced hydraulic fracturing consultant in the Bakken with a long career in the oil business.

Besler said the well’s apparent success may underscore what he’s long preached for Bakken developers and the point Helms was making: When it comes to proppant materials, they get what they pay for.

Proppants are the material injected along with water and chemicals into the shale formations to prop open the fracture cracks to release oil along the miles-long horizontal well pipe.

Operators use either quartz sand or tiny manufactured ceramic beads to hold the cracks open under enormous underground pressure, which in McKenzie County can be as high as 8,000 to 9,000 pounds per square inch, he said.

Sand tends to crush under that kind of pressure, even more so when the well stops flowing naturally and pumps are put into place.

“Pumping increases stress on the proppants and sand is going to crush if it hasn’t already,” Besler said. “I’ve been preaching that sand shouldn’t be used as a proppant.”

Operators use millions of pounds of proppant material for every well. High quality ceramic proppant, made with a high ratio of aluminum bauxite ore to clay, costs five to six times more than sand, but greatly adds to the estimated lifetime recovery of oil from a well, he said.

Market prices for ceramic proppants are about 89 cents a pound for ceramic beads and about 16 cents a pound for quartz sand.

Besler estimates that somewhere between 20 percent and 30 percent of Bakken wells are fracked with ceramic proppants, but most are fracked with a blend of sand and ceramic proppants, or sand only.

He said it’s not practical to refrack wells a second time to increase oil production.

“It’s about doing it right the first time. I ask operators if they can’t afford it at first, when they get the most production, when can they?” Besler said.

Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.