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williston basin petroleum conference
State and industry leaders address the audience at the 2014 Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, the last time the event was hosted in Bismarck, North Dakota. (Image: Renaue Cartier Mitchell)

Rig count rises slightly as North Dakota oil expo begins

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A slight uptick in the number of drill rigs in North Dakota Tuesday fueled some hope to the struggling industry as the state’s annual petroleum conference got underway but a top oil industry official warned that production likely will be flat through 2016.

“Don’t expect to see a whole lot of change the rest of this year,” Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, told reporters.

The number of rigs drilling in western North Dakota’s oil patch increased by three to 28 on Tuesday, the opening day of the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference and Expo, Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said.

“It looks like things are a little bit on the pickup,” Helms said.

The 24th annual conference has alternated in recent years between locations inNorth Dakota and Canada. Two years ago and before oil prices and drilling activity began a prolonged slump, the conference in Bismarck drew a record 4,300 people.

About 2,500 people from 35 states and five countries attended Tuesday, on the opening day of the three-day conference that brings together engineers, geologists, investors, CEOs and government officials.

“It is certainly a different activity level in western North Dakota today than it was two years ago,” Ness said.

At that time, oil was about $90 a barrel and nearly 190 drill rigs were active in westernNorth Dakota’s oil patch. North Dakota oil is now fetching about half of that, and the number of drill rigs has slipped to the lowest in about a decade, although a rig today is more efficient can do the same work two rigs did four years ago.

Ness said producers need the price of oil to jump about $12 a barrel to $60 and hold there for a few months before there is any significant turnaround in drilling activity in the state.

Among the topics of the conference will be to find new technologies and additional efficiencies in production, Helms said.

Increased federal regulations such as those aimed at hydraulic fracturing and emissions, which Ness called “extremely punitive” to the industry, also are on the minds of expo-goers.

But Ness said Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump, the expo’s keynote speaker on Thursday and who is viewed as fossil-fuel friendly, also has brought a “level of excitement and optimism” to the event.

In related news, Anaheim police: Anti-Trump violence will not be tolerated.

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