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Cattle graze open range near a well site in the Badlands in Golden Valley County in October.

North Dakota oil production increased 7 percent in October to an average of nearly 1.2 million barrels per day, the Department of Mineral Resources said Friday.

The increase of more than 78,000 barrels a day is the largest month-over-month oil production increase the state has ever recorded, said Director Lynn Helms.

“It’s an indicator of the strength behind the industry,” he said.

Natural gas production increased 6 percent and surpassed 2 billion cubic feet per day for the first time ever, according to preliminary figures.

The growth in natural gas production is stressing pipelines, gas processing plants and other infrastructure needed to reduce flaring.

In October, the statewide flaring percentage was 16 percent with more than 320 million cubic feet per day flared, according to the state’s figures. The flaring of Bakken gas statewide was 15 percent, falling right at the North Dakota Industrial Commission gas capture target.

“As gas production grows, that's going to be a difficult thing to maintain,” Helms said.

Ten companies fell below the gas capture target and officials are analyzing whether regulatory action is necessary, Helms said.

On Thursday, Industrial Commission members discussed the need for additional gas plants to keep up with growing natural gas production.

“We need to be attracting capital and investment now to have the processing capacity,” said Gov. Doug Burgum, chairman of the commission.

Burgum also said he planned to talk to Mark Fox, chairman of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, about the flaring on Fort Berthold and potential ways to speed the approval of pipeline right of ways. Flaring on the reservation is higher than the rest of the state, at 26 percent in October.

North Dakota had 14,250 producing oil and gas wells in October, a new record.

The state could hit record oil production levels again in the near future, unless winter weather slows down activity, according to Helms. The state’s peak oil production was more than 1.2 million barrels per day in December 2014, about 42,000 barrels more than October’s daily production.

The state has 53 drilling rigs and about 30 hydraulic fracturing crews operating, Helms said.

In 2018, he expects the rig count will stay in the mid- to upper 50s with oil companies continuing to be cautious about the potential for oil prices to drop.

The number of wells that have been drilled but are waiting on hydraulic fracturing crews was 889 at the end of October, an increase of 36 from the previous month. The number of inactive wells also increased in October to 1,471.

Seventy-nine percent of the state’s oil production was transported by pipeline in October, said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. Ten percent was transported by rail, with a majority of rail shipments heading to the West Coast.

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

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