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Bakken Shale Pushing North Dakota Oil Production Higher

Riding the Bakken shale rush, North Dakota appears in a good position to jump up to the second biggest oil producing state in the nation behind only Texas. If the upper Midwest state achieves that status next year as expected, it would leapfrog over both Alaska and California, something that would have been unthinkable five years ago.

While all of the shale plays are adding to robust production statistics nationally, the Bakken in particular has accelerated the fast-paced growth in North Dakota, which was ranked as the ninth biggest oil producer in 2006 and achieved its current fourth position in 2009.

North Dakota officials told an Associated Press (AP) reporter in Bismarck that the state expected to add 1,500 to 2,000 new wells over the next year, building on the 200 wells now being drilled. The state's nearly 6,000 producing wells turned out 444,000 b/d in August this year, the most recent month for which statistics are available.

With that level of activity, North Dakota would overtake California as the nation's third largest producer some time in the next 12 months, according to Lynn Helms, director of North Dakota's Department of Mineral Resources. He predicted that California will be left in the dust as its production is flat.

North Dakota's rise in production, which some sources predict will reach 700,000 b/d by 2015, is developing as the production in both California and Alaska is slowing. The most recent federal Department of Energy statistics show Alaska at about 550,000 b/d and California at 539,000 b/d, while Texas is far ahead in the top spot at 1.2 million b/d.

State officials indicated that there are about 193 drilling rigs active as of last Friday, which is more than double the average daily rig count in the state in 2009. Approximately 95% of the active rigs in the state are working in the Bakken and Three Forks shale formations in the western part of the state, Helms told AP.

Nearly all (99%) of the active rigs in those two formations have hit oil and up to 90% of them are profitable, state resources officials told AP.

With a combination of upgraded transportation options -- rail, truck and pipelines -- North Dakota has "more than adequate" takeaway capacity for increased production, Helms said. There have been millions of dollars of new infrastructure added, he said.

In early October North Dakota sweet crude was getting about $79/bbl, and generally oil industry players have said oil in the state can be drilled profitably at prices above $50/bbl.

In August Bismarck, ND-based MDU Resources Group Inc. reported that its production in the Bakken Shale play of its home state jumped 10% as part of quarter-over-quarter results that were down slightly (see Shale Daily, Aug. 3). The CEO of MDU's exploration and production unit called Bakken "arguably the more prolific and economic" of the shale basins right now. "It is highly contested, but I think we understand this basin really well," said Kent Wells, head of Fidelity E&P.

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