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Published September 04, 2009, 06:53 AM

N.D. oil industry optimistic about the year ahead

A record 381 oil wells were drilled in North Dakota in the past year and more are expected this year, the state mineral resources director told oil representatives Thursday. Lynn Helms gave his report to about 250 people at the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting.

By: By James MacPherson, The Associated Press , The Jamestown Sun

MEDORA, N.D. (AP) — A record 381 oil wells were drilled in North Dakota in the past year and more are expected this year, the state mineral resources director told oil representatives Thursday.

Lynn Helms gave his report to about 250 people at the North Dakota Petroleum Council’s annual meeting.

He said 335 of the wells drilled in the past year were in the Bakken and Three Forks shale formations in western North Dakota. Geologists have been trying to figure out whether the two formations are separate or one.

“The jury’s still out,” Helms said.

Helms expects about 500 wells to be permitted this year, though he said oil prices remain so volatile he now compares them to a bungy cord rather than a roller coaster.

The number of applications for drilling permits dropped off in February, when oil prices were lower, to about two per week, Helms said. But as oil prices have increased, the number of applications has grown to at least two per day, he said.

North Dakota’s oil production totals 215,000 barrels a day, Helms said. Petroleum Council President Ron Ness said it recently returned to that level for the first time since last November.

One indication of oil activity is an increase in the number of businesses providing services to the oil companies, Ness said.

“The outlook is really good,” he said.

Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Marcus Levings told the conference the tribes welcome oil development even though it means more traffic that takes a toll on roads. Levings has proposed widening state Highway 23, which runs along the northern part of the Fort Berthold Reservation, to four lanes.

“We need to have safe conditions,” he said.

Levings also said federal regulations for oil development on the reservation are more onerous than state regulations, and tribal officials are working to change that. An environmental impact statement on the tribes’ proposed oil refinery has taken three years to complete.

“We’re with you,” Levings told the oil industry group. “We will keep working to help you help us.”

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