FARGO — North Dakota’s soaring Oil Patch has placed it squarely in the midst of output levels for members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries — and it already would rank 18th in the world if the state were a country.
North Dakota produces an average of 1.4 million barrels of oil per day, a level that places it ahead of seven of OPEC’s 13 member countries, including Libya, Algeria and Venezuela.
Now, as North Dakota’s oil production continues to grow, it is knocking at the door of a major producer in the North Sea.
“It’s pretty astounding when you think about it,” said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which represents the oil and gas industry.
“We’re producing nearly as much energy, and with our growth will surpass Norway,” which produces more than 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, he said. “Bakken oil is making an imprint on the world. Our role in world oil supply is substantial and significant.”
North Dakota’s emergence as a producer of oil and gas on a global scale is the result of a dramatic upswing in the Bakken oil formation from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which unlocks oil in shale deposits deep underground.
Production in the state's Oil Patch surged more than eight-fold since 2008, when it produced 170,000 barrels per day.
North Dakota’s increased oil production matters to and benefits consumers, Ness said.
“It’s lower gasoline prices,” as well as more stable prices at the pump, he said. “You don’t see huge jumps” in oil prices anymore.
The growth in North Dakota oil production helped push the United States to become the world’s top oil-producing nation, at more than 10.9 million barrels per day. Russia ranks second, producing 10.7 million barrels per day, followed by Saudi Arabia at 9.8 million barrels per day.
In the United States, Texas far outpaces No. 2 North Dakota; it produces 3.49 million barrels per day, or almost 2 ½ times North Dakota’s level.
But thanks to advances in technology, North Dakota’s production continues to climb. The industry was forced to become more efficient during a slump in oil prices earlier this decade.
The cost of drilling a well is around $8.5 million, down from $10 million before 2011. Drilling a well, which once took 33 days, now can be completed in 11 days.
The North Dakota Pipeline Authority closely tracks oil production because it has to plan for the Oil Patch’s transportation needs. It predicts North Dakota’s Oil Patch will be producing 2 million barrels per day by 2030.
“This model does not assume any kind of technology advancement,” so it's a conservative projection, said Justin Kringstad, a geological engineer and the pipeline authority’s director, who calculated the projection.
Price is another important variable. The break-even price for producing oil in the Bakken formation is $30 to $40 per barrel, though it ranges from $40 to $70 per barrel outside the core area, where the most productive wells are found.
As of February, the most recent figures posted by the U.S. Department of Energy, Bakken crude was selling for $51.76 per barrel.
The 1 million barrels per day production mark was reached in April 2014.
Technological advances have been integral to the Bakken boom, which now has matured into a steady growth trajectory, he said.
The project does not include the possibility of enhanced oil recovery — injecting carbon dioxide, under pressure, underground to help force hard-to-pump oil from shalestone deposits. Enhanced oil recovery is a technique used to recover oil in mature oil fields that conventional methods cannot produce.
So far, enhanced recovery technology has not been used in North Dakota, but a pilot project has been announced for a mature oilfield in the state’s southwest corner, outside the Bakken formation.
Denbury Resources Inc. has announced it will invest $400 million to recover oil from the Cedar Creek Anticline in eastern Montana and the western Dakotas, including Cedar Hills South in North Dakota.
The project aims to ultimately produce 400 million barrels of oil, beginning as early as late 2021, according to the company. The project will carry carbon dioxide from Wyoming over a 110-mile pipeline.
The Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota is researching enhanced oil recovery applications in the Oil Patch using carbon dioxide emitted from coal-fired power plants in western North Dakota.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the Bakken’s recoverable reserves total 7.6 billion barrels of oil. Continental Resources, the pioneer in bringing fracking to the Bakken, estimates recoverable reserves at between 30 billion to 40 billion barrels.
The Department of Energy is working on a revised estimate, expected later this year or early next year, that will take into account current technology.
North Dakota now has more than 15,000 oil wells, and officials predict another 50,000 wells will be drilled. Each well has a lifespan of about 50 years, but production diminishes over time.