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North Dakota oil production grows in March as natural gas hits new record

BISMARCK - North Dakota oil and gas production saw robust increases in March but fell shy of the state’s oil record, the state’s top oil regulator said Wednesday.

Oil production grew 4% in March to 1.39 million barrels per day, a “pretty good recovery” after severe winter weather in February hampered production, Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms said May 15.

The state set an oil production record in January with 1.4 million barrels per day.

“I fully anticipate that starting with April, we’ll get back to setting records,” Helms said.

Meanwhile, natural gas production jumped 6.5% in March to a record 2.8 billion cubic feet per day.

The increase was the largest volume gain for natural gas production in a single month, said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

Operators flared 20% of natural gas produced in March, or a record 555 million cubic feet per day, according to the preliminary figures. The gas capture rate fell short of the North Dakota Industrial Commission goal, which seeks to limit Bakken flaring to 12%.

Helms added that the volume of gas captured was also an all-time high in March, but the volume produced exceeded the amount of processing plant capacity and other infrastructure.

“That’s going to be the story for the rest of this year,” Helms said, adding that plant capacity is expected to catch up by the end of the year.

North Dakota had 65 drilling rigs operating on Wednesday, a level Helms said he expects to grow. Fifteen of those rigs were active on the Fort Berthold Reservation, which Helms attributed to the new tax agreement between the state and tribe that provides certainty for the industry.

Seventy-three percent of the state’s oil left the state by pipeline in March, Kringstad said.

About 260,000 barrels of oil per day left the state by rail, with the West Coast receiving the bulk of the shipments, Kringstad said.

The state of North Dakota is preparing to sue the state of Washington over new legislation that would affect Bakken rail shipments, with “a number of interested parties” that have said they would intervene in a lawsuit to support North Dakota, Helms said.

“That’s where we’re headed, with near 100 percent certainty,” he said.

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