Whatcha See Is (Not) Whatcha Get - Bakken Gas Production Rebounds, But Will It Last?

Bakken associated gas production volume, after falling to its lowest levels in three years in early May and remaining depressed through June, has surged by 500 MMcf/d, or about 45%, in the past month and a half to 1.7 Bcf/d. However, the gains have occurred in the absence of a meaningful change in rig counts or well completion activity, which remains sluggish. Similar to the Permian, the Bakken production recovery has been almost entirely driven by existing wells returning to service after being shut in earlier this year in response to the oil price collapse. With little in the way of new drilling and completion activity, how long will it be before natural declines of existing wells begin to take a toll on Bakken output? Today, we examine prospects for continued strength in Bakken gas production volumes.

Gas pipeline flow data over the past couple of months has provided the first indications that the bulk of the U.S. oil wells that were shut in this past spring have returned to service and that production volumes are rebounding. The data also provides a glimpse of what likely will follow the rebound in most basins: a gradual contraction in production output measured by the natural decline rates of existing wells, particularly given that producers’ capital spending budget cuts have slowed new drilling and well completion activity to a crawl.

We discussed last month in Gimme Some Truth how these dynamics have unfolded in the Permian — from the sharp drop in associated gas output in early May as the basin’s producers shut in some crude-focused wells in response to low crude prices and storage constraints; to the near-vertical rebound in gas production in late June, as U.S. shut-ins (and, on a global scale, OPEC+ cuts) helped to work off some of the surplus in storage and crude prices recovered above $40/bbl; and finally, the inevitable downturn in production as natural declines continued to wear down the strength of output from existing wells. At the peak of the rebound in early July, Permian gas volumes hit a post-shut-in high of 11.7 Bcf/d, up from an average 10.5 Bcf/d during the worst of the shut-ins, but not quite back to pre-shut-in highs near 12 Bcf/d, and they’ve continued a slow slide from there (see the weekly NATGAS Permian and Crude Oil Permian reports for the latest).

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