In another sign that the Bakken Shale’s best oil producing areas continue to be gassier than other shale plays, North Dakota officials saw natural gas production set an all-time record in January, averaging more than 2.7 Bcf/d for the month.

“Again, we’re seeing the situation where gas is increasing much faster than crude oil,” said regulator Lynn Helms, who directs the Department of Mineral Resources. The production increases make it more important than ever to build additional natural gas gathering and processing infrastructure, he said.

“We’re off to a good strong start for the year,” with oil production in a “photo finish” with record December 2018 totals, though just slightly lower, he said.

In January, natural gas production reached 2.72 Bcf/d, compared to 2.65 Bcf/d in December. Oil production in January was essentially flat compared with the previous month at 1.4 million b/d.

Helms offered mostly positive indicators, with oil prices up sharply, producing wells hitting an all-time high and production from the Fort Berthold Reservation (FBR) showing signs of stabilizing. Rig counts and natural gas capture rates stayed fairly steady, too. The only negative, which Helms said could stick around for awhile, was a continuing uptick in the number of uncompleted wells.

“It really has been month-to-month uncertainty with changes in rig counts on the reservation swinging back and forth by four or five rigs, mostly on the trust lands,” where more than two-thirds of FBR production originates. “Production has been up and down, but I think that is going to stabilize as we move forward,” Helms said.

FBR has nearly 300,000 b/d of production, including 192,000 b/d on trust land, with more than 2,000 active wells and another 4,400 potential new wells. Except on the reservation, gas capture improved overall, decreasing month-over-month by 9 MMcf/d to 507 MMcf/d, and statewide Bakken capture hitting 82%. Without FBR, which had 71% capture, the statewide rate would have totaled 84%.

Helms said the price for Bakken sweet crude was up to $48/bbl last Friday, an increase of $25 since December. The rig count hit 65 on Friday, compared to 64 in February and 66 in January.

“The wells waiting on completion are rising, so even though the rig count is flat or stable, hydraulic fracturing crews were let go,” Helms said. “So completion activity is down, and we’re going to see the noncompleted wells grow over the rest of the winter and probably until road restrictions are lifted, which could be quite late this year.”