"The idle well [count] increased again to 762 wells, approximately 300 above the normal 450, indicating that drilling continues to outpace fracturing services and a need to add approximately 10 crews," Helms said in his monthly "Director's Cut" report.

Helms said gas has been flared at "record levels" in the Bakken play as a means of "promoting the resource to the natural gas gathering and processing industry and demonstrating the size and potential of the resource." As a result of allowing "evaluation time," a plan was presented by industry to invest more than $3 billion in natural gas gathering and processing infrastructure through 2013 (see Shale Daily, Oct. 12).

Helms was silent on recent reports about the Tyler formation, which extends from the southwestern part of the state into South Dakota. Action has been predicted to pick up in that play by the end of the year. Oil has been produced from vertical wells in the Tyler since the 1950s, but oil producers believe the formation has the potential for more than 7,000 horizontal wells, similar to what has happened with other shale plays in the region.

Helms told Prairie Business that the Tyler is probably five years away from commercial production, citing the Bakken as a model. From the Bakken's first horizontal drilling in 2004, it took until 2009 before the "code was broken," as Helms called it.

Helms said increased federal rules on hydraulic fracturing are expected, drilling permit activity is high but still below record levels, and the number of wells drilling on federal surfaces in the Dakota Prairie Grasslands is down to two. Seismic activity is busy, with four surveys active and eight pending, he said.

"North Dakota leasing activity is focused on renewals and top leases in the Bakken/Three Forks thermal maturity area with significant activity now south of Dickinson and west of Belfield. Much of the leasing activity has shifted to northeast Montana."