A deep freeze named Brutus hammered North Dakota with a pre-winter force in November, knocking down oil and gas production from all-time record levels the previous month, according to the latest statistics from the state Department of Mineral Resources (DMR).

DMR Director Lynn Helms talked about economic pressures and regulatory uncertainty surrounding hydraulic fracturing (fracking), but the main factor reducing month-to-month production totals for the first time in recent memory was Brutus hitting Williams County Nov. 10 with the worst snow storm in more than a century of record keeping.

North Dakota last experienced a month-to-month production drop in April 2011, according to a DMR spokesperson. “We don’t expect the trend to continue as weather in December was nice,” she told NGI’s Shale Daily on Friday, noting that the biggest factor in production declining has been a shortage of hydraulic fracturing crews.

As a result, November oil production dropped 2.2% from October, hitting 21.9 million bbl (733,078 b/d), compared to 23.2 million bbl (749,212 b/d) the previous month. Similarly, natural gas production was 23.4 Bcf (782 MMcf/d) in November, compared to 24.7 Bcf (797 MMcf/d) in October.

“November saw a small decline in drilling with a very large decline in hydraulic fracturing,” Helms said. “More operators are transitioning to higher-efficiency rigs and implementing cost-cutting measures at the end of their 2012 capital budgets, but the primary reason was winter storm Brutus.”

Permitting and rig counts continued to decline, although the latest statistics show an increase in wells actually producing: 8,101 in November, compared with 8,035 in October. Wells capable of producing in November hit 9,003.

Permitting in the holiday-laden month of December dropped to 154, compared with 370 in October and 211 in November as the rig count currently is 181, dropping from 188 and 186 in October and November, respectively.

“The idle well count rose sharply, indicating an estimated 410 wells waiting on fracturing services,” said Helms, characterizing the rig count in the Williston Basin as stable. “North Dakota leasing activity is very slow, mostly renewals and top leases in the Bakken-Three Forks area.”

The ramped up construction of oil and gas takeaway infrastructure was hurt by the weather, and Helms speculated that with U.S. gas storage up to 11% above the five-year average, low gas prices will prevail in the foreseeable future. Shallow gas exploration in North Dakota continues to be uneconomic in the near term, he said.