North Dakota oil production returned to record territory in March as the weather finally began to reverse a sharp curtailment in production over the winter months.

Preliminary oil production figures released Tuesday by the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources put March production at 977,051 barrels per day. This was an increase of nearly 25,000 from the final tally of 952,055 barrels per day reported in February.

The previous record high was 976,453 barrels per day, set last November.

“The larger surge in production expected in March didn’t happen,” Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said.

Production is expected to begin a steady climb throughout the summer and approach or narrowly surpass the 1 million barrels mark as early as next month’s report.

Helms said reining in natural gas flaring is an issue the department will be making a full-on push at grappling with in the months ahead. A new policy effective June 1 requires all new drilling applications to include a gas capture plan.

New rules were approved by the North Dakota Industrial Commission earlier this year as the result of the work of a natural gas flaring task force. The goal is to reduce flaring to 15 percent within two years and 10 percent within six.

Helms said the industry has been very cooperative to date on helping work with the state to develop the new policies but the gas capture plans have been a point of contention.

“They’re extremely nervous about what this is going to mean,” Helms said.

Flaring as a percentage in the state began a downward trend in March to 33 percent. This was down from a record high of 36 percent that had persisted for months while Hess Corp.’s Tioga gas plant was offline during the final stage of an expansion project. It began coming online in late March.

According to the U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration approximately 1 percent of all natural gas in the country is flared. Department data also says while North Dakota accounted for only 0.5 percent of all natural gas drawn from plays in the U.S. from 2008 to 2012 it has accounted for 22 percent of the nation’s flared gas.

Helms said matters such as whether or not restrictions will be required including production curtailments are expected to be addressed in an order brought before the Industrial Commission in June.

Industry officials testified at a day-long meeting in April that too harsh a set of restrictions would negatively impact development or make companies consider investing elsewhere. Conservationists and oil patch residents responded that slowing down activity and allowing infrastructure build-out to catch up with production would help alleviate flaring.

March production statistics in several other key areas hit new highs in Tuesday’s preliminary numbers.

Preliminary March numbers put the total wells in production at 10,457 wells. In February the final well count was at 10,199.

Natural gas production returned to a new high in March, reaching 1.086 billion cubic feet per day. In February the final figure was 1.064 billion cubic feet per day.

A total of 635 wells were waiting on completion from hydraulic fracturing in March, down from 650 in February.

Total oil production for March was at approximately 30.3 million barrels according to preliminary figures. This was up from the final tally of 26.6 million barrels reported in February.



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