North Dakotas oil production averaged above 460 thousand barrels per day (bbl/d) in September 2011, more than four and one-half times its September 2005 level, according to figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Although the State’s oil production growth slowed during the first few months of 2011, more favorable weather conditions helped operators significantly boost output in June, July, August, and September. North Dakota currently trails only Texas, Alaska, and California among oil-producing States.
Production increases in North Dakota are mainly associated with accelerating horizontal drilling programs in the Bakken shale formation situated in the northwest portion of the State (and extending into Montana and portions of Canada). By combining horizontal wells and hydraulic fracturing (the same technologies used to significantly boost shale gas production), operators increased North Dakota’s Bakken oil production from less than 3 thousand bbl/d in 2005 to more than 230 thousand bbl/d in 2010.
The early-2011 slowdown in the States oil production growth was due in large part to an especially severe winter and spring flooding that hampered exploration and development activity. Through May, monthly increases averaged just over 1%, well below the average monthly production growth of about 3% in 2010.
North Dakota operators reported stronger production gains more recently. In June 2011, oil production averaged 385 thousand bbl/d, an increase of nearly 6% over May. In July, oil production grew by more than 10% from the previous month, averaging 424 thousand bbl/d. Production in August and September rose by 5% and 4%, respectively. According to North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), warmer and dryer weather has resulted in a sharp increase in active drilling rigs and hydraulic fracturing activity as operators escalate exploration and development programs.
Citing a backlog of over 350 wells awaiting fracturing services, the DMR anticipates further oil production increases through the remainder of 2011 and over the next several years (reaching as much as 750 thousand bbl/d by about 2015, up from its earlier estimate of 700 thousand bbl/d mentioned in This Week in Petroleum). According to the DMR, the State’s crude oil takeaway capacity (via pipeline, rail, and truck) is adequate to accommodate near-term projected production increases.