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As N.D. oil production nears record, natural gas flaring climbs

A truck travels in the oil patch in Dunn County this spring. North Dakota oil production jumped 5.4 percent in April, nearly hitting the state's record of nearly 1.23 million barrels per day that was set in December 2014. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK—North Dakota oil production jumped 5.4 percent in April to more than 1.2 million barrels per day, coming in just shy of the state's record.

Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms called it a big surprise to see production levels within 2,500 barrels of the all-time high of nearly 1.23 million barrels per day.

"We were not expecting that kind of a surge until late May, early June," Helms said Friday while discussing the preliminary figures.

Natural gas production increased 7.4 percent in April, setting another record at more than 2.24 billion cubic feet per day.

The state also saw natural gas flaring return to levels not seen since late 2014.

Operators flared an average of 351 million cubic feet per day in April, a jump of 91 million cubic feet per day since March, the largest month-over-month increase ever, according to the department's figures.

"Gas continues to outpace oil and that creates one of our big challenges in terms of what industry is going to do going forward," Helms said.

Regulators are still analyzing the flaring figures, but Helms said he anticipates some operators will be required to restrict oil production as a consequence for exceeding North Dakota Industrial Commission gas capture targets.

The policy requires operators to capture 85 percent of Bakken natural gas, or flare no more than 15 percent. On average, operators flared 15 percent of Bakken gas in April, and 16 percent of gas statewide.

"I'd be surprised at these numbers if we don't see some restrictions," Helms said.

Some of the flaring is due to a compressor station that was down during the month, as well as delays some companies are facing to get right-of-ways approved for pipelines at Fort Berthold, Helms said.

Flaring on the reservation was 22 percent, the figures show.

In addition, the number of new oil and gas wells that came online in March and April outpaced the number of wells that were connected to pipelines, said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

The amount of natural gas North Dakota produces now exceeds the state's processing capacity, Kringstad said. Five gas plant projects are under construction or in development, with one expansion expected to begin operating by the end of this year.

Helms said an outage at the Robinson Lake gas processing plant in May likely led some companies to limit oil production in order to stay within flaring limits. He tempered expectations about May oil production, but said the state will likely break the oil production record set in December 2014 by the time June figures are released.

"We are expected to break that record before mid-year," Helms said.

North Dakota now has 14,571 producing oil and gas wells as of April, another new record.

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