Freezing weather knocked out millions of barrels of Permian, Bakken oil production

Robert Tuttle and Lucia Kassai, Bloomberg January 20, 2024

(Bloomberg) – The wintry weather that blanketed parts of Texas in snow and hammered North Dakota with extreme cold knocked out millions of barrels of U.S. oil production, and the industry was expected to need weeks to restore output to normal levels.

Photographer Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Production across the U.S. was curtailed by about 10 MMbbl this week, according to market participants who asked not to be named because the information is private. Losses in the Permian basin of Texas and New Mexico are estimated at around 6 MMbbl and shut-in output in North Dakota’s Bakken is seen at close to 3.5 MMbbl.

In Midland, in the heart of the Texas Permian, temperatures dipped below freezing in 11 out of the 19 days of this month. The cold has been especially bitter in past few days, with the lows below 20F (-7C) for most of the week, according to Accuweather.

Extremely low temperatures freeze water at the wellhead, shutting in production. Icy roads make it difficult for vacuum trucks — used to haul away waste water — to reach drill pads, causing drillers to either halt pumping or curtail rates, the people said.

The losses currently amount to less than 1% of total U.S. crude production, which is around 13 MMbpd, but they are expected to linger or even rise in North Dakota. In the city of Williston, at the center of the Bakken formation, below-freezing temperatures are expected throughout the end of the month, posing continued challenges. Oil producers there may need at least a month to restore output to normal levels after more than half of the state’s flows were cut off this week, state officials said. 

Natural gas gathering systems that are connected to oil wells fill up with liquids during extreme cold, disrupting the operation of compressors, said Lynn Helms, North Dakota’s mineral resources director. Crude wells are then shut in to avoid flaring.

“It will be a long, slow recovery,” Helms said on a webcast. “January will be a very, very bad month.”

Drillers in the third-largest oil-producing U.S. state have restored some output after the extreme cold knocked out as much as 700,000 bpd of production earlier this week. The state produced about 1.3 MMbpd in November, the most recent month of data.

The volume of shut-in production has been cut by almost half to between 350,000 bpd and 400,000 bpd as of Friday, Justin Kringstad, director of the state’s pipeline authority, said in an email. That’s still more than the average 2022 output of OPEC member Congo.

Frigid weather also disrupted refining operations in the southern U.S. this week. About 1.5 MMbbl of the Gulf Coast’s refining capacity — roughly 15% of the region’s total — was offline as of Friday, both due to the cold and scheduled maintenance, according to Wood Mackenzie. About 1.8 MMbbl of crude-processing capacity was idled across the U.S. as a whole.

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