What's ahead for the oil and gas producing counties in North Dakota?
Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources in Bismarck, presented a county-by-county report of those counties that are in the front line of the development and dealing with the impacts. He made the presentation at the recent annual meeting of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties.
Here's some information from his report:
A pumping unit is shown here at a site near New Town in Mountrail County. Projections are that county, one of the top four crude oil producing counties (others are McKenzie, Dunn and Williams) in the state, will have around 2,400 producing wells in five years, according to North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources projections.
Referring to a graph of Billings County, he said, "You can see we're going to see a pretty good surge in rigs next year in Billings County.
As of Oct. 18, he said, just under 300 wells were producing in the county
He said in five years, his projections for Billings County show 1,250 producing wells and 2 million barrels of oil a month.
He said the Spearfish Formation in Bottineau County is experiencing crowding out right now. "We'll need a couple more years to get in there with drilling rigs and start drilling out those 2,400 wells 24 wells per square mile, "Helms said. "In a couple years we think that well costs will be where they need to be and oil costs stay strong so we will see that."
"In five years we're looking at 850 producing wells and about half a million barrels a month out of Bottineau County," he said.
Bowman County had high crude oil production for a time, but that has declined.
But Helms said right now there's a Co2 pipeline working its way from Wyoming to Bell Creek, an oil field in southeastern Montana. "The pipeline and the plan are already funded and budgeted to come to Baker, Mont., then the Co2 is just right across the border," Helms said. He said long term, the real key for Bowman County is the Co2 pipeline.
"Burke County is in a few years looking at a pretty good surge in rigs," Helms said, adding, "Long term, a lot of drilling could be done in Burke county with a lot of additional jobs coming into Burke County."
Five years from now, he said the projections for Burke are a well count of 1,250 and production at three-quarters of a million.
Divide County is very much the same story as Burke County, he said.
"We've got 7,700 active-producing wells in the state of North Dakota right now, making 700,000 barrels a day. Long term, he said, Dunn County lands at 7,200 producing wells."
He also noted that 10 percent of people who are working oil and gas jobs and secondary-driven jobs in Dunn County live in the county. "The rest of them get in a white pickup truck or big semi and drive in there every day," he said.
If that population was increased from 10 percent to 20 percent living in Dunn County, mainly in Killdeer, Dunn Center and Halliday, he said such a change will take a lot of time, planning and money.
Golden Valley is on the verge of quite a large increase in rig count, Helms said.
"We don't see a lot of drilling activity in McHenry County," Helms said. "It doesn't appear that the Bakken gets over there but there's oil in the lower Lodgepole in McHenry County."
"Wow. McKenzie County," Helms said. He said it will be quite a day when that county hits 12.5 million barrels of oil a month and 4,800 wells.
He said oil and gas officials think McKenzie County has seen its peak in rig count at 72, but in the future it still is not very low with 60 rigs.
McLean County's projections are "nice and steady," he said. "You can see the wells march on up to 300,000 barrels a month coming out of there."
The Lower Lodgepole Formation in Mercer County is a real struggle, Helms said. He said no one is working on the technology for it right now so he didn't build it into his projections.
"It just keeps on going and going and going," Helms. He said in five years Mountrail County will have around 2,400 wells and producing about 7 million barrels a month.
He said the Mission Canyon play is "two to three years out until that really gets its legs under it in order to catch up with well costs."
He said it is a play that has just started to be experimented with in Renville, Burke and western Bottineau.
Slope County is a similar story to Bowman County and having had some activity there, Helms said.
He said Stark County's certainly headed in the right direction. Five years from now, it is projected to have 700 wells producing in the county.
The Tyler Formation in that area won't kick in with activity for a few years, he said. "It's just suffering from the crowding out effect something fierce."
Slightly more than 60 producing wells are shown in Ward County in five years.
"Williams County's pretty much steady at 40 drilling rigs," Helms said. "In five years we've got Williams County at 2,900 wells and 7 million barrels per month."
Helms, who also spoke at a recent meeting in Minot of Vision West ND, a grant funded project, said a recently released housing study projects that by 2025 North Dakota will need housing for 840,000 people.
He said that would be a long-term stable population of at least 840,000 people and a much younger population.
"That's a lot more people than we've ever had," he said. He said the peak population was last year but the previous peak was in 1930 at 670,000. "We went down for 70 straight years after that. We're now at 700,000-plus and working our way to a million," he said.
He said 40-some studies have been undertaken in the state regarding the oil activity and its impacts.
Helms told participants at the N.D. Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties' meeting there are risk factors that could cause slowdowns in the oil activity.
Those scenarios are:
- The draft Bureau of Land Management hydraulic fracturing rule could double federal drilling permit approval time or worse.
- Current administration budget contains tax changes that could reduce drilling capital 35 to 50 percent.
- Draft Environmental Protection Agency guidance on diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing could triple drilling permit approval time or worse.
- World and U.S. economies continue to struggle. If China joins the downward spiral oil price could fall enough to make some areas uneconomic.
"I don't think all four of these things are going to go wrong for us. I think that's a very unlikely scenario," Helms said.
If nothing goes wrong, he said the state could reach 1.6 million barrels of oil a day.
If there would be a slowdown, he said, "All it does is delay things because the four big counties Mountrail, Williams, Dunn and McKenzie they keep drilling all the way down to $30 oil. Everybody else starts dropping off at $50, but these guys keep drilling," Helms said.
Currently, Helms said Russia is No. 1 in oil production, Saudi Arabia, No. 2 and the U.S., No. 3.
"Russia is producing about 11 million a day, Saudi Arabia, about 9 or 9 1/2 million, and the U.S., about 7 million.
"If the Bakken keeps going, if things fall in the right direction and another million barrels a day are added to the Bakken and likewise in the Eagle Ford Play in Texas, Helms said he can easily see North America exceeding Russia in oil production.
Helms also said at the N.D. Association of Oil and Gas-Producing Counties that the way energy development is going the North America and the U.S. could achieve oil independence within the decade.