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Bakken oil patch weathers bitterly cold temperatures

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041418-nws-well site.jpg (copy)

An oil well site southeast of Ross.

The bitterly cold weather of the past few weeks means the oil patch is moving a little slower than usual.

But the frigid temperatures were not a factor in the latest oil production data released Friday, which accounts for November 2021’s output. North Dakota produced 1.16 million barrels per day of oil that month, a 4% increase from October. That’s the most significant uptick in oil production the state has seen in over a year, State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said at his monthly press briefing.

Twelve frack crews operated in North Dakota during November, bringing online 60 new wells. Some were newly drilled and others had sat idle for a while after they were drilled.

Bitterly cold temperatures hit the state in late December, however, and lasted until this past week. The below-freezing conditions have affected the rate at which natural gas can be produced and gathered in the oil fields. Oil companies do not want to wastefully flare off the gas at well sites because that could prompt the state to restrict their activities, so they are instead looking to scale back oil and gas production from wells where freezing is an issue, Helms said. That in turn could mean lower oil production figures for December and early this year, he said.

“It’s all about the cold weather,” Helms said.

It’s not unusual for the oil industry to experience a slowdown at the start of the year amid the winter, said Barrett Withers, chief operating officer of Beaver Creek LLC, an oil field service provider on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. He told reporters at the monthly oil briefing that his company is optimistic because more frack crews and drilling rigs are operating in the state, a sign of the industry's continued recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We think it’s going to be a great 2022 year, similar to what we’ve seen in pre-pandemic levels,” he said.

His expectations for this year are a far cry from where the company found itself after the pandemic hit.

“We looked at sending trucks all the way down to Texas just to keep people working,” Withers said.

North Dakota’s daily gas production rose 2% to 3.042 billion cubic feet in November. The oil and gas industry is capturing 94% of all gas produced statewide and is meeting the 91% target for the Bakken set by regulators, though a few problematic spots remain on Fort Berthold where there is inadequate gas gathering infrastructure, Helms said.

Well plugging

The state has identified 94 more abandoned oil wells to plug in a continuation of the program it began in 2020 using federal virus aid.

Helms said the Oil and Gas Division is looking to finish reclamation work on another 119 well sites that have already been plugged. The state plans to apply for more aid made available under the federal infrastructure bill signed into law last year.

“Twenty-six states filed notices of intent to participate in that program,” Helms said. “What we invented here in North Dakota is now going to expand across 26 oil- and gas-producing states nationwide.”

Well plugging has helped keep afloat oil field businesses such as Beaver Creek and Ham’s Well Service, both of whom had representatives speak at Friday's briefing.

“It kept up to 40 of my guys working and off unemployment,” said Shane Bryans of Ham's. “It was very important to me as an employer because it kept my employees around.”

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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