New completion designs, breakevens help Bakken break records

By Luke Geiver | May 21, 2019

A historic, decades-old oilfield in North Dakota is responsible for one of the highest barrel per day initial production rates ever recorded from a well on land in the U.S. The record-breaking well highlights how advanced completions in the Bakken shale play have become, and why the play is still leading the world in technological advancements deployed in the field. The Antelope field hosted a well that surpassed 10,000 barrels of oil per day (16,000 barrels of oil equivalent if the natural gas produced from the well was factored in), according to Lynn Helms, director of the department of mineral resources for North Dakota. Helms talked about the well and the impact of enhanced completions on the Bakken during his monthly update to industry and stakeholders.

“We are seeing the effects of remarkable wells,” he said. “There is almost no where you can drill where you can’t make money.”

New completion designs are expanding the perceived core of the Bakken and Three Forks formation by roughly 40 to 50 miles in some cases. According to Helms, the wells still decline but they start out with production rates that are 50 percent higher than previous versions and also remain producing at sustained levels that are also 50 percent higher than wells producing for a similar time frame that were also previously drilled and completed in a similar area.

“Virtually everywhere is economic,” he said.

Starting in mid-March, the Bakken reached roughly 25 frack crews after weather hampered operations in the Williston Basin for the winter months. By mid-summer, there should be approximately 50 frack crews operating in the state.  “Everything is moving at a rapid pace now. Road restrictions are off,” he said, adding that some counties have seen a big uptick in activity and workover and completion work is really taking off.

Later this year, oil production should once again begin breaking records. Natural gas production continues to rise. In March, natural gas production rose 6.5 percent from the previous month. Prices remain low for gas and natural gas liquid takeaway capacity still remains inadequate. Other states with shale gas plays have expressed similar issues as North Dakota, he noted, adding that all states are now accustomed to massive gas production volumes from new wells. In North Dakota, the volume of gas captured is at an all-time high, but supply is outpacing takeaway capacity.

On the crude-by-rail front, the state intends to file a lawsuit against the state of Washington related to new crude-by-rail vapor pressure restrictions the state has planned to start later this summer. According to Helms, the lawsuit is based on a violation of interstate commerce laws and the science behind the Washington law.

With 1,800 job openings for oil and gas positions in the state, Helms said they are also sharing the same issues of other states that have shale plays: they all need more workforce. The state has plans to develop new options for high school workers and streamline the process of getting into certain jobs. In the next two years, projections show the state will need to fill 3,500 jobs each year to meet the need of the oil and gas industry.

Permitting for new wells is still strong at roughly 100 to 150 permits per month. Oil prices are expected to rise due to global turmoil and throughout the year, Helms expects the Bakken and Three Forks (where 99 percent of the new wells are being drilled) to add drilling rigs.