Low Oil Prices Are Not Causing a Bust in the North Dakota Bakken

One of the reasons there is no bust in the North Dakota Bakken is because of the low break-even cost of oil production within several counties within the Bakken Formation. Dunn County has the lowest break-even costs at $24 per barrel, where total revenues would overtake production costs.

There are several other counties in the ND Bakken that have low break-even costs; McKenzie County at $27 per barrel, Williams County at $38 per barrel and Stark County at $41 per barrel. Conversely there are several counties within the ND Bakken where the break-even cost is very high: Bowman, Slope Bottineau and Renville counties are all at $85 per barrel.

Dunn County happens to be the fourth highest oil producing county in North Dakota, production was at an average of almost 200,000 barrels per day in June (2015). The Bakken Formation is shallower in Dunn County, which helps with overall lower well costs.

Multiple geological factors help determine break-even cost in oil extraction and a main factor is the amount of water taken in the process compared to the amount of oil produced. Less water means less work to separate the water from the oil that is being extracted.

Another factor is shale density, the denser the shale the more favorable for oil extraction and Dunn County has a dense shale play. Break-even cost are calculated by tracking economic data submitted by operators, which includes monthly well operating costs, yearly drilling costs and initial production rates over 12 months.

The number of drilling rigs in Dunn County is down almost 70% since 2012. The North Dakota Bakken had 69 drilling rigs operating on September 11, 2015 and Dunn County had 11 of those rigs. 

Source: Paul Thares, South Dakota State University 

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