North Dakota's oil industry faced 'pretty terrible' year in 2020; lengthy recovery expected
Monday, December 28, 2020

The oil industry will remember 2020 for the rapid collapse of crude prices in the spring, leading to dismantled rigs, idled wells and a bleak rest of the year. 

Oil companies filed for bankruptcy and thousands of people in North Dakota's oil patch lost jobs. Williams County still has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 12%, nine months after oil prices cratered. 

"All in all, it was a pretty terrible year for the industry," said State Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms, North Dakota's top oil regulator.

Still, it wasn't the worst downturn he's seen in the 40 years he has either worked in the oil industry or regulated it. Two others top this one including a bust in 1999 and 2000, brought on by overproduction and a poor economy, as well as another in the mid-1980s when oil prices plummeted and the number of rigs operating in the state fell from 150 into the teens.

Helms does not expect activity to bounce back quickly in North Dakota's oil patch.

"As we look forward to the next year, it doesn't look very promising in terms of growth," he said. "I think we have to get out more than a year, maybe a year and a half, before we have the prospect of seeing oil and gas prices that result in sustained growth."

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