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Natural gas flaring exceeds state's limits in September; oil output up

BISMARCK—Oil companies flared 17 percent of natural gas produced in September, exceeding the state's flaring targets for the first time since they were adopted three years ago.

Director of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms said the flaring of 323 million cubic feet per day was caused by unanticipated maintenance problems with pipelines, natural gas processing plants and compressor stations.

Under guidelines adopted by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, oil companies are supposed to capture 85 percent of natural gas or limit flaring to no more than 15 percent.

Flaring increased from 14 percent in August to 17 percent in September, an increase of 54 million cubic feet per day.

Helms said the vast majority of the increased flaring was caused by unforeseeable circumstances and likely won't lead to regulators requiring companies to restrict oil and natural gas production.

Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, said he does not expect the higher-than-average flaring to continue into October and November.

However, additional natural gas processing plants and other infrastructure will be needed to stay on track with the state's gas capture goals, which will increase to 88 percent on Nov. 1, 2018, Helms said.

"We're rapidly approaching the capacity for what we have out there for infrastructure," he said.

North Dakota oil production increased 1.6 percent in September to an average of 1.1 million barrels per day, according to preliminary figures.

It's the first time the state's production has exceeded 1.1 million barrels per day since March 2016, Helms said.

"It's very encouraging," he said.

Natural gas production saw a slight decrease of less than half a percent to an average of 1.9 billion cubic feet per day. It's the first time in three years that North Dakota gas production has decreased while oil production increased.

Helms attributes that shift to a greater number of wells being developed outside of the core Bakken area, where wells tend to produce more natural gas.

The number of wells that have been drilled but are waiting on hydraulic fracturing crews was 853 at the end of September, a decrease of 10. The number of inactive wells decreased by 54 to 1,444 in September.

North Dakota had 14,190 producing oil and gas wells in September, a new all-time high. The state had 55 drilling rigs operating in the state on Wednesday, a level that has held steady over the past few months.

Seventy-six percent of oil was transported by pipeline in September, while 11 percent was transported by rail, Kringstad said.