North Dakota saw the largest month-over-month oil production decline on record during December, attributed largely to bad winter weather, state officials said.
North Dakota's oil production fell 9 percent in December to 942,455 barrels per day from 1.03 million barrels per day in November, according to data released Wednesday by the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.
"The big story is the weather," Lynn Helms, the department's director, said in a conference call with reporters. "Horrible weather in North Dakota. Very difficult to produce oil."
Three snowstorms were coupled with 10 days of bitter cold temperatures — 10 degrees-below zero or lower — and 15 days of winds in excess of 35 miles per hour.
Bad weather was also the main cause of an 11 percent decline in natural gas production from November to December, Helms said.
December's oil production numbers were the state's lowest since January 2014, the start of a boom year in which production ramped up to its all-time peak of 1.23 million barrels per day in December 2014.
Since then, North Dakota and the rest of the U.S. oil industry has been hobbled by lower prices. Plus, when winter hits, North Dakota can bear a special burden.
Last month, the number of drill rigs in North Dakota stood at 38, down by two from December. The drill rig count continues to be depressed due to low oil prices associated with the lifting of sanctions on Iran and a weak world economy, Helms wrote in his monthly production report.
Crude oil prices, as measured by the West Texas Intermediate benchmark, have hovered between $50 per barrel and $54 a barrel since Dec. 1, settling near $53 Wednesday.
North Dakota's stagnant drill rig count also has been affected by "capital movement to the Permian basin," Helms' report said. The Permian basin is a large shale-oil reservoir in Texas and southeastern New Mexico, which generally has lower production costs than North Dakota's Bakken fields.
One bright spot: Permitting activity for new drilling in North Dakota returned to normal in January after falling sharply in December. Also, Helms said that oil companies are already lining up workers for an anticipated pickup in business when the weather warms.
"They are going to add as many fracking crews as they can this summer," he said.