Interest beyond the Bakken Shale's four-county core in North Dakota is expanding to the upper Midwest grasslands, with as many as five of the state's 65 active rigs now in operation.

During the most recent monthly report on North Dakota's oil and natural gas production, Department of Minerals Director Lynn Helms reported an increase in exploratory activity on federal lands in the grasslands.

"That is generally very encouraging," Helms said. "There is a lot of very good geology out there,” in the mixture of federal, tate and private lands, including U.S. Forest Service land.

Drilling permits were granted recently in the Corral Creek Unit in Dunn County in western North Dakota. In addition, a carbon capture and storage project by Red Trail Energy LLC is set to get underway this summer near Richardton, which Helms expects to be operating in 2020.

More natural gas processing capacity also coming online by the end of this year to increase capacity to about 3.1 Bcf/d from 2.7 Bcf/d and by to up to 3.8 Bcf/d by the end of 2020, Helms said.

Another area in which he predicted increased activity in coming months is on the Fort Berthold Reservation, where more than one-quarter of Bakken oil production takes place. After months of discussions between state and federal officials, Helms expects an agreement to be signed as soon as April.

Fort Berthold oil production most recently averaged 289,804 b/d, almost 200,000 b/d from trust lands, and the rest from fee lands. Thirteen rigs were operating, and there are more than 2,000 active wells on the Native American lands, with the potential for more than 4,400 more wells.