Oil and gas experts in the state are checking out another area that might be a hotspot for oil activity in the state.
Lynn Helms, Bismarck, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, said there's a mysterious hotspot in the Turtle Mountains in eastern Bottineau County.
"We're going to run some tests in some wells this winter and over this next year. We think there's a second circle over here south and east of the Turtle Mountains that's another hotspot," Helms said, indicating a map showing the coverage area of the Bakken and Three Forks formations in North Dakota.
He said Ward Williston, a Westhope company, will be measuring the thermal radiance in some of their wells so they can confirm if the area in the Turtle Mountains is another hotspot.
"So we may expand well east, based on that information," Helms said, referring to the same map.
The Three Forks Formation is underneath the Bakken Formation, the latter which is the drilling hotspot, especially in Mountrail County.
Helms spoke Friday to members of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce's
In regard to the current low oil prices, Helms said the companies doing most of the drilling in the Bakken in North Dakota signed two- and three-year contracts. "So they're committed to use that drilling rig for two to three years regardless of the oil price," he said.
He said many of these companies hedge their oil at $100 a barrel "so they sold their future production for three years out at $100 a barrel." He said that insulates several of the major operators in North Dakota and their service companies from the temporary drop in oil prices.
He said some of the oil companies also have hundreds of thousands of acres in mineral leases that they obtained for fairly low bonus dollars $50 to $100 an acre. "They do not want to go out and re-lease that land at 10 times that money. So they're going to employ those drilling rigs to develop those leases at this point," he said.
Helms said the focus of the recent oil development has been on Mountrail, McKenzie and Dunn counties and across Fort Berthold Reservation.
He said the oil activity will migrate north in a couple years and then in 2011, it will move into Ward, Mercer and McLean counties.
He said all of this projected activity is predicated on a recovering oil price.
"But we truly believe, five years from now, people will have long forgotten $30 North Dakota sweet crude," Helms said.
Based on mineral leases on state land, Helms said they have projected the movement of the oil development as follows (state mineral leases expire in 5 years):
2009: Mountrail, McKenzie, Williams, Divide and Fort Berthold.
2010: Burke, Mountrail, Williams, Divide, Dunn and Fort Berthold.
2011: Mountrail, Dunn, Divide, Burke, Mercer, McLean, Renville and Ward.
2012: McLean, Ward, Renville.
2013: Mercer, McLean, Ward, Renville, Bottineau.
Currently, he said there are more than 4,100 wells producing.
The N.D. Oil and Gas Division's Web site showed 91 rigs active in the oil fields as of late Friday. The division is part of N.D. Mineral Resources.
Currently, North Dakota is the No. 5 oil-producing state in the nation, Helms said.
He said October oil production statistics will be released shortly and will show about 195,000 barrels a day. In September, he said it was 188,000 barrels a day.