North Dakota’s oil production was down 1 percent in November, but remained above the 1 million barrel per day mark.
North Dakota, the nation’s second largest oil producing state, churned out 1.03 million barrels per day in November, down from 1.04 million in October, according to data released Friday by the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources.
“It’s not really a big surprise, but it’s good news that at the end of November, we are above 1 million barrels per day,” said Lynn Helms, director of state’s Mineral Resources Department. In September and August, production dipped below the 1 million per day mark, with September marking the lowest monthly output since February 2014.
The state’s production peaked at 1.23 million barrels per day in December 2014, just as oil prices had begun falling into what’s been a two-year slump.
Despite the comeback in October and November, Helms said he expects that production will dip below 1 million barrels a day in December due to cold and snowy winter weather, which can make operations more expensive. “November weather was beautiful, but December and January are going to be another story.”
The weather this month so far has often been so cold that “hydraulic fracturing makes no sense for companies,” Helms said, referring to the fracking process common throughout North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields.
North Dakota’s latest production results were a mixed bag. The number of drilling rigs — after rising from 33 to 40 between October and December — is currently down to 26. Permits for new rigs, a leading indicator, dropped sharply in December, down from 78 in November to 35.
However, natural gas production rose 2 percent from October to November to 1.76 million cubic feet per day, a record high. Gas is doing better than oil because much of the industry’s activity is currently in areas that have a higher gas-to-oil ratio than the Bakken field as a whole, Helms said.
North Dakota, like the rest of the oil industry, has been grappling with low prices.
West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark U.S. crude, is currently trading around $53 per barrel, and has been above $50 for the past six weeks, its best performance in a year that saw prices slip below $30 last February. Still, that’s well below the $80 to $100 a barrel oil had traded at through 2012 and most of 2014.
Sustained oil prices need to be in the $50 to $60 per barrel range to spark more activity in North Dakota. Oil price weakness is anticipated to last into 2017’s second quarter, according to the North Dakota’s mineral resources monthly report.