NEW YORK (Reuters)
- "Collapsing natural gas prices have yielded an unexpected boon for North Dakota's shale oil bonanza, easing a shortage of fracking crews that had tempered the biggest U.S. oil boom in a generation. Energy companies in the Bakken shale patch have boosted activity recently thanks to an exceptionally mild winter and an influx of oil workers trained in the specialized tasks required to prepare wells for production, principally the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing.
State data released this month showed energy companies in January fracked more wells than they drilled for the first time in five months, suggesting oil output could grow even faster than last year's 35% surge as a year-long shortage of workers and equipment finally begins to subside.
As output accelerates, North Dakota should overtake Alaska as the second-largest U.S. producer within months, extending an unexpected oil rush that has already upended the global crude market, clipped U.S. oil imports, and made the state's economy the fastest-growing in the union.
The number of idle wells waiting to be completed in the state reached a record 908 last June, the result of a new drilling rush and heavy spring floods. Only 733 wells were idle in August as crews caught up, but the figure crept steadily higher until the start of this year. Now, the industry may be turning a corner in North Dakota, the fastest-growing oil frontier in the world.
"Both rig count and hydraulic fracturing crews are limiting factors. Should they continue to rise together, production will not only increase, it will accelerate," said Lynn Helms, director of the state Industrial Commission's Oil and Gas Division."
MP: The chart above illustrates the nationwide shift from drilling for natural gas to drilling for oil over the last several years. The shift in capital equipment and labor towards oil will allow production in North Dakota -the "fastest-growing oil frontier in the world" - to grow even faster.