North Dakota sees largest oil production drop on record, but there's 'a silver lining'

An oil well in western North Dakota. Forum News Service file photo

BISMARCK — Oil production plummeted 15% between March and April — the biggest monthly production dive North Dakota has ever seen on record.

North Dakota’s Oil Patch production totaled about 1.2 million barrels per day in April, compared to the state’s all-time high of 1.5 million last November. The slump comes after a steep fall in demand due to the coronavirus and an additional plunge from a price war between Russia and Saudi-led OPEC.

And the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources expects May production numbers to be even worse for the industry, with daily production likely dropping below 1 million barrels per day.

“This is the largest production drop on record, and our records go back to January of 1970,” Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources, said at a press conference Friday, June 12. “...Very stunning numbers.”

At the beginning of March, the state had 52 rigs running compared to just 10 on Friday.


Helms said that more than 9,000 unemployment claims have been filed from those who work in the state's oil and gas sector.

However, in “a silver lining,” the state captured 88% of the gases emitted from wells, a goal set by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which manages certain utilities, enterprises and industries.

When oil prices dropped, state officials and political leaders began bracing for a massive decline in state revenue, about half of which is tied directly to oil and gas production taxes.

The still-unknown extent of the slump in revenue and the fluctuating demand for oil has made the task of forecasting funding for the next legislative session in 2021 very difficult, but Gov. Doug Burgum directed all state agencies last month to identify sizable budget cuts in anticipation of hard times ahead.

News from State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt's office Friday provided some insight into the strain on the state from the oil price collapse. The state's Legacy Fund will receive its lowest ever monthly deposit next week at $10.24 million, Schmidt confirmed. The savings account receives 30% of all the oil and gas tax revenue.

As recently as February, the monthly deposit into the fund was more than $60 million.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at

Forum News Service reporter Jeremy Turley contributed to this report.

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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