North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources director Lynn Helms expects big things for North Dakota oil in the coming year.
When describing the future of drilling in the state, Helms, the state's top oil industry regulator, used the Daytona 500 as an analogy.
"We're at about Mile 50," he said. "We're very early in the race. We're not even to the first pit stop yet."
Considering the strides that have already been made, that's a bold prediction. Due to improvements in jet pump installation and other oilfield equipment, areas like the Bakken shale, once inaccessible, have become prime locations for drilling. As a result, North Dakota has heavily increased its production: for September, the most recent month for which data is available, daily output was measured at over 930,000 barrels across 9,700 wells.
Helms expects that number to increase, telling the interim Government Finance Committee that he expects 2,000 new wells to be drilled in the coming year. More than 730 permits are pending, a figure which is in addition to the 1,550 that have already been approved.
He also predicted that 2014 would see the persistence of relatively low prices, which have dropped from over $90 per barrel in August and September to just over $70 now. However, even at this lowered price point, Helms described oil drilling as highly economically viable, a proclamation that fits in with his optimistic projections.
All told, production is increasing faster than even the state predicted, with current output about 10 percent ahead of state projects. The boom is in full swing in North Dakota, and if it's top industry regulator is correct, progress should continue into the new year.