Exhibitors fill the Bismarck Civic Center Exhibit hall on Tuesday for the opening day of the 20th annual Williston Basin Petroleum Conference. 

Optimism is high ahead of the 2018 Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, where North Dakota’s oil industry is set to discuss technology advancements that could recover even more oil from the Bakken.

More than 2,150 people are registered for the event that starts Tuesday at the Bismarck Event Center, with additional participants expected to attend throughout the three-day event.

The conference will showcase research projects that are underway to increase the potential of the Bakken and target more oil-producing formations.

“I think there’s just a big technology breakthrough ahead of us,” said Kathy Neset, an oilfield geologist and president of Neset Consulting. “There might have been a slowdown in the rig count, but there was a not a slowdown in the work going on behind the scenes to continue research and development.”

North Dakota has 14,457 producing oil and gas wells as of March, a new record for the state.

But the oil produced from those wells, most recently 1.16 million barrels per day, only represents about 10 percent of the oil that could be recovered, industry experts say.

Ultimately, North Dakota is projected to have 60,000 oil and gas wells, with the drilling completed over the next 15 to 17 years, said Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms.

“We’re still less than a fourth of the way there,” Helms said.

As drilling continues, technology advancements will allow the oil industry to capture more oil from future wells, Neset said.

“Each one of these new wells will capture a higher percentage of crude oil,” she said.

One research project that will be highlighted during the conference is a partnership with Liberty Resources and the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota.

Liberty CEO Mark Pearson is scheduled to discuss a pilot project that involves injecting natural gas underground to enhance oil recovery.

The technology has been investigated in the lab at the EERC and will be tested in the field north of Tioga this summer, said John Harju, vice president for strategic partnerships for the EERC.

“The simulation results are very, very encouraging,” Harju said.

Other topics that will be highlighted during the conference include workforce issues, pipeline monitoring technologies, expanding natural gas infrastructure and cybersecurity issues.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is the keynote speaker on Wednesday morning.

The conference features more than 70 presenters, including eight Bakken executives, and a trade show with more than 270 booths.

The 26th annual conference, which rotates between North Dakota and Saskatchewan in Canada, attracted more than 4,000 people in 2012 and 2014. Though attendance is on track to be closer to 2,500, Ness said he thinks optimism is as high as it was during the peak years of the Bakken boom.

“We’ve been through a rough period,” Ness said. “I think finally Wall Street and investors have recognized what we’ve accomplished in the Bakken with the decreased costs, the improved efficiency and companies and the investors are focusing back on the Bakken. That’s a big, big deal.”

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(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)