As oil prices continue to fall amid flat demand and near-record supply, a dramatic production slowdown is expected to hit the US sometime this summer, if not earlier.
But no matter how unfavorable market fundamentals may be to Bakken operators, North Dakota is likely to see a “big surge” in production this June, potentially besting another supply record even if prices continue to crater, according to Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources.
This surge will be largely propelled by two factors: a state-mandated time limit on drilling and the expected trigger of a major oil tax incentive, Helms said.
Helms, the state’s top oil and gas official, reported last week that North Dakota oil production fell about 3%, or about 37,000 b/d, to 1.190 million b/d from December’s all-time high of 1.227 million b/d. The reduction was expected as sweet crude prices averaged $31.41/barrel in January, down from $40.74/b a month earlier and the statewide rig count fell by 21 to 161.
But Helms said he doesn’t expect production to tumble dramatically, even as prices continue to fall, and even though he expects the statewide rig count to “bottom out” at about 100 rigs. Production, he said, will likely remain between 1.1 million b/d to 1.2 million b/d over the next few months.
But Bakken production could suddenly skyrocket, by nearly 10%, or an additional 75,000 b/d, to 100,000 b/d in June, Helms said. This means that despite low prices and production curtailments throughout much of North America, oil production in North Dakota could actually shatter a new record this summer.
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This is mainly due to a backlog of between 800 to 1,000 uncompleted wells statewide, about 125 of which need to be completed by the end of June in order to comply with state requirements to complete drilling within a year.
At the same time, operators may wait until June, when a major oil tax incentive known as the “large trigger” is expected to go into effect. The large trigger, which is aimed at boosting Bakken production at times of low crude prices, enters into force when the WTI crude price averages below $55.09/b for five consecutive months.
If that incentive is triggered, which Ryan Rauschenberger, North Dakota’s tax commissioner, said he expects will happen, the majority of wells will be exempt from a 6.5% oil extraction tax for as long as two years.
With that tax break in effect and hundreds more wells running up against one-year state deadlines, production in North Dakota could continue to surge even beyond the summer.
“We’re going to ride these waves of production increases, “ Helms said.