Drilling productivity in the Bakken Shale, which is producing more than 1 million b/d of light sweet crude oil, is a byproduct of geology and the fact that North Dakota operators are further along the learning curve than in other U.S. onshore plays, according to the state’s top oil and gas regulator.

Even in just the last six months, "productivity of wells is significantly better now," said Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms during his monthly production report webinar on Wednesday.

He cited one operator drilling in Mountrail and southern Burke counties, Liberty Resources Management Co. LLC, which has drilled laterals running as long as three miles, with production rates up to three times higher than the usual rates in the area.

"It is encouraging that the Bakken continues to maintain its place as No. 1 or No. 2 in productivity-per-rig," said Helms of national rates. However, he acknowledging that the Bakken still competes against the Permian and Anadarko basins, more leaseholds still could be developed.

Some operators working in the Permian, the No. 1 oil target in the country, and in the Anadarko may bring more investment dollars back to North Dakota where Helms claimed they get "make more money for every dollar invested."

In the five-county core of the Bakken, two-mile laterals are still the norm, but long laterals are beginning to multiply outside the core, Helms said. In addition, the super-spec drilling rigs are capable of "incredibly fast drilling times," even in the longer laterals.

North Dakota engineers have found that wells drilled today are more productive in their seventh month of operation from wells drilled at a similar interval six years ago, he said.

"Compared to a six-year-old well on average, wells now produce about 70,000 bbl more in the seventh month of their life.” Operators also are having fewer issues with hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and well interference, he said. Water and sand volumes are higher this year than they were a year ago too, which indicates more fracking and longer laterals.

Helms believes the Bakken has remained at the cutting edge in technology applications, such as fracking techniques, lateral length and the drilling speed.

"Equally important is the fact that the Bakken, with the exception of the far northwestern corner of the state, is very overpressured, much more than many of the other major U.S. plays," he said. "This makes Bakken well productivity quite a bit higher due to the rock being so over-pressured."