For months the news coming out of Midland has been positive – gradually increasing oil prices triggered a resurgence in activity in the Permian and Delaware Basins. At the same time, the slow if steady rise in oil prices seemed to be doing little to increase activity in the northern Rockies.
On December 13, however, in the Director’s Cut issued by the NDIC (North Dakota Industrial Commission) Department of Mineral Resources, we may be seeing evidence of the recovery finally reaching the Williston Basin. Most notably, the statistics released today show an increase in oil production in North Dakota of more than 71,000 barrels per day in October compared to September; 1,043,207 and 971,760 barrels per day, respectively. For reference, the all-time high in the state was in December of 2014 at 1,227,482 barrels per day. The vast majority (around 95%) of the state’s production comes from the Bakken and Three Forks shale plays, as opposed to conventional pools.
North Dakota also reached what appears to be an all-time high of 13,457 producing wells in October. Moreover, the rig count in the state has steadily climbed from 33 in October to 40 as of today; still a far cry from the high of 218 rigs on May 29, 2012.
At the same time, there is a long way to go before the Williston Basin oil patch truly recovers. For example, there are 860 wells waiting on completion, and that number is down only one since the end of September. There also are more than 1,500 inactive wells. Finally, the utilization rate for rigs capable of reaching 20,000+ feet is 25-30%, while shallow well rigs have utilization rates of only 15-20%.
Overall, the Director’s Cut offers some encouraging news, including that operators appear to be “maintaining a permit inventory that will accommodate a return to the drilling price point within the next 12 months.” But the recovery in North Dakota likely will continue to pale in comparison to that being experienced in West Texas.
Despite this optimism, the inner skeptic in me continues to wonder how increased production in North Dakota, Texas and elsewhere, will impact the supply/demand balance that led to $30 oil. That, however, is a discussion for another day and today is the day to be thankful for the encouraging news in Director Helms’ report.