North Dakota's Oil Production Hasn't Slowed Down Much


Despite sensational headlines, North Dakota’s oil production hasn’t fallen off much.


The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources released their latest rig count and oil production numbers last week, and the on-going plateau in oil production prompted some media outlets to resort to some pretty sensational reporting.

“The shale boom in North Dakota has softened to a whisper,” reported Dan Murtaugh for Bloomberg.

“Proof that the shale boom is practically over keeps growing,” wrote Akin Oyedele for Business Insider.

“Cheap Oil Is Devastating North Dakota’s Shale Industry,” wrote Steve Birr for the Daily Caller.

It’s certainly true that oil production in the state is not seeing the sort of explosive growth it has in past years. Heck, I wrote that the North Dakota oil boom was over back in December. And yes, for the first time in September, North Dakota failed to produce more oil in a month than in the same month the previous year.
But the end of booming oil growth doesn’t necessarily mean a bust, even though that’s the impression you may get from some media outlets.

The truth is that oil production really hasn’t fallen off all that much, and even the rapid decline in the number of drilling rigs seems to have moderated. Here are the latest production/rig count numbers from the DMR:

North Dakota oil production

That’s hardly a picture of a “sky is falling” situation. In fact, the real story here is just how remarkably resilient Bakken shale oil production has remained even amid low oil prices. The all-time record for daily oil production in the state was 1,227,483 barrels per day in December 2014. In September the state produced 1,162,253 barrels per day, or just a 5.3 percent decrease.

To be sure, we’re going to continue to see a fall off in production if oil prices don’t recover. The oil companies will keep stacking rigs, and production will follow that slowdown in drilling activity.

But this isn’t a bust. As someone in the energy industry told me recently, it’s worth remembering that when oil prices crashed in the 1980’s the rig count in North Dakota dropped like a rock to zero. Today it seems oil prices have hit bottom, and we’ve still got dozens of rigs operating.

What the state really needs is more pipeline infrastructure, to lower the costs associated with bringing North Dakota oil to market, and a lift of the oil export ban so that the market state oil producers serve is larger.