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North Dakota oil output falls to 1.475 million b/d in December, down 3%: state

Highlights

After revision, November 2019 a record-setting month

Rig count to stay in mid-50s

State says 'pure breakeven' has fallen to $10/b

Washington — North Dakota oil production fell to 1.475 million b/d in December, down nearly 43,400 b/d, or about 3%, from what is now a record November, the North Dakota Pipeline Authority said Friday.

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The state has revised upwards its production estimate for November to 1.519 million b/d, up more than 3,600 b/d from its initial estimate last month, making it the state's latest oil output record, breaking the record set in October.

North Dakota natural gas production averaged nearly 3.06 Bcf/d in December, down about 0.08 Bcf/d from November, the pipeline authority said. The authority estimates about 16% of the state's natural gas was flared in December, including 12% flared due to challenges or constraints on existing gathering systems and 4% flared from wells with zero sales.

North Dakota's rig count averaged 55 in November, December and January and was at 56 on Friday, according to the state's Department of Mineral Resources. The state expects the rig count to remain in the mid-50s throughout the year.

There were 111 wells completed in December, down three from November, while the number of producing wells fell from an all-time high of 16,110 in November to 15,979 in December, according to the state department.

The number of wells waiting on completion climbed from 919 to 958, while the number of inactive wells climbed from 1,726 in November to 1,920 in December.

CORONAVIRUS TO INCREASE INACTIVITY

Lynn Helms, the department's director, told reporters Friday he expects the number of inactive wells to climb due to declining oil prices and the demand impacts of the coronavirus outbreak.

"My expectation is that at these oil prices, the cashflow for returning inactive wells to production is turned off," Helms said.

Helms said he expects the inactive well count to climb through the middle of this year, adding marginal, low-producing wells will be most vulnerable to low prices. The state allows operators to keep wells in inactive status for one year.

Statewide breakeven prices in the fourth quarter of 2019 averaged $10/b WTI, according to the state agency's latest data. North Dakota's McKenzie County, which accounts for half of the state's rig count, had a breakeven of $8/b, in Q4, according to the state data.

Statewide breakeven prices have fallen by $12/b, a roughly 60% decline, since Q2 2017, according to the agency.

For years, analysts have criticized the state agency's breakeven numbers as unrealistically low, claiming officials are ignoring several factors involved in calculating breakeven prices.

Platts Analytics calculates Bakken breakevens at about $39/b WTI equivalent.

Platts Analytics defines breakevens as the oil price needed to recover drilling, completion costs, and operating expenses on an after tax basis for the operator to get a 10% return.

Helms called the state's breakeven estimates a "pure breakeven," which only accounts for recovering drilling and completion costs and does not consider return on investment.