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North Dakota Sets More Production Highs; Big Oil Price Drop

North Dakota reported Friday it again has set new all-time records for natural gas and oil production as the price of its much-sought-after light sweet crude oil took a nosedive, dropping $14/bbl compared to October prices, according to the latest statistics from the state Department of Mineral Resources (DMR).

DMR Director Lynn Helms said he expects rail transport of Bakken crude to pick up markedly as a result of the price drop, which widens the difference between WTI and Brent oil prices by more than $20/bbl. Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, echoed Helms' prediction, saying the increased rail shipments should go on for several months.

Helms reported that Friday's Bakken sweet crude price at $71.25/bbl, compared to $85.16/bbl in October, and $92.96 and $93.97, for September and August, respectively. For September, natural gas prices in the state also took a dip, averaging $3.07/Mcf delivered to Northern Border Pipeline at Watford City, dropping 27 cents.

After topping the 1 Bcf/d milestone the previous month, natural gas production inched higher to 1.06 Bcf/d in September, the latest month for complete statistics, DMR reported. Overall production in the month was 31.8 Bcf, compared to 31.2 Bcf in August. On a preliminary basis, the September statistics are a new all-time record.

Similarly, oil production on a preliminary basis hit 931,940 b/d to set a new record but overall production for the month was 27.9 million bbl, a slight decline from the 28.2 million bbl in August.

"At this pace we won't quite make a million barrels-per-day this year, but early next year we will set that significant milestone," Helms said. He noted that increasingly the state's production is almost entirely (93%) from the Bakken-Three Forks Shale. "Production would be less than 10% of what it is today if it wasn't for the Bakken," he said.

Based on the latest statistics, 61% of the wells are horizontal, so nearly two-thirds of the state's supplies are coming from unconventional plays, Helms said. "All of this speaks to how productive these wells are," he said. The 61% of the wells produce 93% of the state's oil.

Rig counts have remained essentially flat. They hit 185 as of Friday, Helms said, and he expects five to 10 new rigs will be added by the end of the year, according to what industry sources are saying. For August through October, the rig count was 183.

Progress was made on the proportion of gas flared at the wellhead as it dropped back to 29%, and the volumes being flared increased only slightly, according to Helms, hitting 9.57 Bcf.

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