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Oil rig activity is steady and will see a slight increase in 2018. Above, a drilling operator on a Billings County oil rig in 2017.

Tom Stromme

There continues to be encouraging news emerging from the Bakken. More key infrastructure projects are being announced, ones that should move more product to market and reduce flaring.

The rebound in oil production has been slow and steady, not the explosion of activity the state endured during the oil boom. This time around we have had more of an opportunity to adjust to the production needs. The state has a flaring policy in place, though some would argue it lacks teeth. However, the policy gives residents an idea of how companies are doing in meeting flaring targets. There’s also more processing plants and pipelines planned, reducing the reliance on trucks and rail.

Oneok announced last week it’s dusting off a project it had put on the shelf. The North Dakota Public Service Commission approved the Demicks Lake natural gas processing plant in McKenzie County in 2015. Oneok suspended construction because of low commodity prices. The market has improved and the company plans to build the plant, which will process 200 million cubic feet per day of natural gas. The plant will be northeast of Watford City within an area of the Bakken where wells produce the most gas. The plant is also expected to ease flaring on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

Demicks will bring to five the number of natural gas processing plants or expansions being built or in the planning stages. Oneok also plans a 900-mile natural gas liquids pipeline from Sidney, Mont., to Kansas and a 530-mile pipeline to move natural gas liquids from Oneok facilities in Oklahoma to Mont Belvieu, Texas.

There are other projects in different stages of planning. Oneok wants to expand the Bear Creek gas processing plant near Killdeer from 80 million cubic feet per day to 175 million cubic feet per day. There’s a proposal to expand the Arrow Bear Den gas processing plant near Watford City. Hess Midstream Partners and Targa Resources Corp. plan to construct the Little Missouri Four plant to process 200 million cubic feet of natural gas per day in McKenzie County. The Oasis Wild Basin plant is undergoing expansion in McKenzie County.

Altogether, the five projects will add 815 million cubic feet per day in natural gas processing capacity. That will bring the state’s total capacity to nearly 3 billion cubic feet per day by the end of 2019. More expansion is projected to be needed by 2021.

More pipelines are being planned. Andeavor Logistics plans a pipeline system to move natural gas liquids from the core of the Bakken to a rail terminal near Belfield. The company wants to build 44 miles of pipeline in McKenzie, Billings and Stark counties to move mixed natural gas liquids from the Watford City area to Belfield. The liquids would be separated into different products and moved by pipeline to a rail terminal in Fryburg.

There are more pipeline projects in the works. Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, expects natural gas liquids production to more than double by the 2030s. That’s good growth, but more orderly than what happened during the oil boom. The price outlook will improve as we increase our ability to move the Bakken products to other markets.

If North Dakota can maintain this steady growth it should have a positive impact on our economy for the long term. It’s a much better scenario than the wild days of the oil boom.