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North Dakota's oil output almost back to normal after April blizzards

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Flames from a natural gas flaring stack dance with the waves of heat on a cold winter day in front of an oil pump jack west of Stanley.

North Dakota’s oil production is about 90% back online following back-to-back April blizzards that downed power lines and caused massive disruptions across the Bakken region.

State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms on Friday estimated that the state’s oil production had rebounded to about 1 million barrels per day after falling as low as 300,000 barrels per day during the second blizzard in late April. He told reporters that “we’re recovering” as oil patch crews work to bring the remaining 10% of idled wells back online.

Prior to April, North Dakota’s oil production had been slowly climbing. New data released Friday shows that the state’s daily oil output was 1.12 million barrels in March, a 2.8% increase over February. The state’s official oil figures lag two months as officials collect and analyze data from energy companies.

High oil prices -- the result of the ongoing war in Ukraine -- have helped the state’s oil industry as it continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, which sent oil demand and prices plummeting in 2020.

Forty drilling rigs were operating Friday, up from the low 30s at the start of 2022. Helms said 15 frack crews were operating in the state, completing the work necessary once a well is drilled to get it producing oil. That’s up from 11 at the start of the year and up from just one that operated at the height of the downturn in 2020.

A worker shortage continues to hamper the oil industry’s ability to drill more in North Dakota, Helms said. He added that companies have moved a lot of oil field equipment to the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, where oil production is more robust.

“It’s taking around two months to train and deploy a drilling rig and crew,” he said. “It’s very, very slowly coming back.”

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State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms.

April’s oil production figures are likely to be down in light of the blizzards, he said.

North Dakota produced just over 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day in March, a 4.6% increase over February. The industry captured 95% of gas and is exceeding the state’s 91% target. Energy producers captured 94% in February. The rest was burned off at well sites in a process known as flaring, due to a lack of access to pipelines and processing plants.

“Those are the best back-to-back months we’ve seen in the state,” said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

He said the blizzards caused a major shift in gas flowing through the Northern Border Pipeline, which begins in Canada yet transports much of the gas produced in the Bakken to markets in the Midwest. The storms knocked every gas processing plant offline in North Dakota for various lengths of time, so gas from Alberta and British Columbia temporarily filled in the gap.

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

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