North Dakota oil production rose 4 percent in January after a dismal December, though the forecast for the next several months is tepid.
The state's oil fields pumped out 980,294 barrels per day in January, up from 942,322 in December, as the weather improved a bit, according to data released Wednesday by the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources. The all-time production high was 1.23 million barrels per day in December 2014, which occurred just as global oil prices began plummeting.
North Dakota — the nation's second largest oil producing state — saw its largest month-over-month decrease on record in December as three snowstorms and icy, windy weather pummeled the state.
"The first half of January was as bad as December 2016, but the last 10 days of the month the weather was dry, warm and a little windy," Lynn Helms, the mineral department's director, wrote in a monthly report.
"We had real good weather for putting some wells back into production," Helms said in a conference call. "Things got back on trend."
Still, he said production should remain flat if not fall in the next few months. In fact, he doesn't expect monthly production to top 1 million barrels per day again until 2018's fourth quarter.
North Dakota produced 1 million barrels per day from April 2014 through July of last year. Since then, the state has topped 1 million barrels per day only in October and November.
One positive sign: The number of drill rigs looking for oil has increased in recent weeks. The rig count is now 44, up from 39 in February. The all-time high was 218 in May 2012.
"Operators are shifting from running the minimum number of drill rigs to incremental increases through 2017, as long as oil prices remain between $50/barrel and $60/barrel WTI," Helms wrote.
"A lot of operators are talking about adding a significant number of rigs this year."
The West Texas Intermediate benchmark oil price has been mostly hovering between $52 to $56 per barrel since December, the longest stint above $50 since the summer of 2015 and a big improvement from the February 2016 nadir of $30 per barrel.
But oil prices fell 5 percent Wednesday, with the WTI hitting a 2017 low, settling at $50.28. Prices fell sharply Wednesday on news that weekly U.S. oil inventories jumped higher than analysts expected, for a record high.