The number is mindboggling 33,000. That's the number of wells needed to fully develop the Bakken in North Dakota over the next years, said the state's top oil and gas regulator.
Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources in Bismarck, said North Dakota currently has 6,600 wells capable of producing and about 6,000 wells producing on any given day.
Helms, who spoke Sept. 1 to members of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce's Energy Committee, said 2,000 is the number of wells a year expected to be drilled in North Dakota.
An oil-field truck heads across the Four Bears Bridge, west of New Town. Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources, says development in the oil patch in western North Dakota has just begun and thousands of wells will be added to develop the Bakken.
At that rate, Helms said it will take 225 drilling rigs, which create 47,000 jobs in western North Dakota.
As of Thursday, 198 rigs were working in North Dakota, according to the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division's website. N.D. Oil and Gas is a division of the N.D. Department of Mineral Resources.
"Right now, we think the oil-field employment is at about 35,000," Helms said.
He said of the 35,000 people working in the oil field, about 28,000 of them are working at the drilling rigs and another 8,000 are serving wells, building power lines and doing other types of work.
Helms said oil companies are working to secure their leases which normally expire in three to five years, unless a well isn't drilled.
"It almost doesn't matter what the price of oil does for the next two and a half years because if they allow that lease to expire they have to go re-lease that spacing unit. It will cost them $2 million to re-secure the leases on that spacing unit.That will add almost 25 percent of the cost of a well," he said.
"That is the driving factor we've got to put enough rigs on the landscape and drill enough wells to secure the proven leasehold," Helms said.
"Once that's done we may see some relaxation in the drilling rig count, although I don't expect a lot of that," he said.
"It will take 14 years with everything going right for 225 rigs to fully develop 28,000 wells," Helms said.
He said that means real estate investments are really good investments in North Dakota.
Helms' department said 33,000 is the number of wells to fully develop the Bakken but Helms said Harold Hamm, chief executive officer of Continental Resources, an Enid, Okla., based company, has a much higher number.
"Harold Hamm says we've got to have 50,000. He might be right. But we know we've got to add 30,000, which is mindboggling. We've never had those kind of well numbers in North Dakota," Helms said.
Continental Resources leases in the Bakken have grown to 901,370 net acres, with 72 percent of its acreage in the North Dakota portion of the play, according to a report released by Continental last month. The company has 23 operating drilling rigs in the Bakken 21 in North Dakota and two in Montana and five dedicated crews performing hydraulic fracturing services. The company plans to replace a rig it lost in a July 24 explosion in North Dakota. It plans to increase further its operated rigs in the Bakken in 2012.
Helms said the Bakken development area runs east from about N.D. Highway 49 and west to the Montana border, south to about Interstate 94 and north to the Canadian border.
"It's the size of the state of West Virginia. It's all got to be drilled," he said. "If it was a state all by itself, it would be 40th in the nation in terms of the size of it."