Helms Wants More Three-Mile Laterals
Friday, September 23, 2022
North Dakota's top oil and gas regulator would like to see more companies in the industry consider three-mile long underground laterals when drilling in areas outside the Bakken core.

Lynn Helms, in a presentation at the annual meeting of the ND Petroleum Council in Watford City, said the Department of Mineral Resources is prepared to assist companies drilling in less productive Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas to reconfigure their spacing units to accommodate three-mile laterals instead of two miles. Helms said that converting spacing units from 1,280 acres to 1,920 acres would allow companies to drill the longer laterals, which generate higher rates of initial production (IP), nearly comparable to those in Tier 1 (the Bakken core).

"We will partner with you to find a way to re-space your Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas from 1280s to 1920s so that you can take advantage of the (higher) IP, and the improved return on investment, and the lower emissions, and the fewer pads and all of the things that go with 1920s over 1280s," he said. 

Helms said because more three-mile laterals will mean fewer wells, the department has revised downward its projected total well count across the Bakken from 65,000 wells, down to 40,000 thousand wells. There are currently 15,000 producing wells in the Bakken and Three Forks formations, and 17,000 in total throughout western North Dakota.

As for the remainder of Tier 1 which Helms said is 80 percent drilled out, the future will likely be in enhanced oil recovery. He noted two pilot projects using produced gas are underway and a third is in the works, potentially setting the stage for the future use of carbon dioxide in EOR projects. Helms said initially, CO2 will simply be sequestered in underground sandstone formations, but he believes ultimately it will be used to extend the life of oil plays in North Dakota.

"We're talking about implementing lots of carbon capture, utilization and storage, initially storage, to take advantage of all the tax credits that are out there, but ultimately utilization to bring carbon to the oilfield so that we can use it for enhanced oil recovery," Helms said.

He said a multitude of other energy opportunities exist, which have the potential to attract even more industry to the state.

"We're talking about backing up wind farms with gas-fired electricity. We're talking about connecting ethanol plants to CO2 pipelines to bring that to the center and ultimately to the northwestern part of the state. We're talking about value-added natural gas, locally-mined frac sand, and critical minerals, even being mined in southwestern North Dakota," Helms said. "On top of all of that, we're talking about data centers ... and companies like Rainbow Energy, which are putting together this whole synergistic program down there at Underwood ... it is an amazing concept."