North Dakota Surpasses OPEC Member Ecuador in Oil Production

North Dakota oil production surged 42 percent to 510,000 barrels a day in November, exceeding the output of OPEC member Ecuador, as energy explorers accelerated drilling in the Bakken Shale formation.

The state’s daily crude output topped a half-million barrels for the first time during the month, North Dakota’s Oil and Gas Division said today in a statement. North Dakota’s 6,300 wells produced enough oil to displace imports from foreign suppliers such as Iraq or Colombia, Lynn Helms, division director, said in the release.

Oil producers including EOG Resources Inc. and Continental Resources Inc. have spurred a five-fold increase in North Dakota’s oil output by using intensive drilling practices to tap the Bakken, a geologic formation that stretches from southern Alberta to the northern U.S. Great Plains. It’s estimated to hold as much as 4.3 billion barrels of tecnically recoverable oil in North Dakota and Montana, according to a 2008 report by the U.S. Geological Survey.

“This is big news for the state and the country,” Helms said. “Oil production in the state has increased anywhere from 8,000 to 40,000 barrels a day every month since June.”

Production will continue to increase as drillers hone their techniques, Andrew Steinhubl, co-leader of consulting firm Bain & Co.’s North American oil and gas practice, said in a Jan. 6 interview from Houston.

Rising Crude Production

In the Bakken formation alone, crude production rose 56 percent in November to 443,425 barrels a day from a year earlier, state figures showed. Bakken oil accounted for 87 percent of the state’s total November output.

Continental, the Enid, Oklahoma-based oil company controlled by billionaire Harold Hamm, is the largest leaseholder in the Bakken shale region, with 901,000 acres, based on third-quarter 2011 data compiled by Bloomberg Industries. Hess Corp. of New York and Denver-based Whiting Petroleum Corp. are second and third with 900,000 acres and 680,000 acres, respectively.

Bakken crude is a low-sulfur variety preferred by refiners not equipped to handle heavier, more corrosive types of oil. Bakken crude rose 1.5 percent to $97.97 a barrel today at the Clearbrook, Minnesota, hub, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The price has increased 15 percent in the past year.

Ecuador, with 500,000 barrels of daily output in November, was the smallest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, according to data from the International Energy Agency in Paris.

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