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Williston Basin Petroleum Conference underway in Bismarck

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Bismarck is hosting the annual Williston Basin Petroleum Conference this week.

But there was some uncertainty going into it.

"We were concerned, coming right off the Legislative session, and allowing the emergency order to expire -- what would the attendance be?" said North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources director Lynn Helms. But he said the registrations for the Conference exceeded 2400.

"That's a great number," Helms said. "And that's going to grow during the conference."

Helms called it an "ice breaker" for the industry, anxious to get back to pre-pandemic activity. And he said he senses more optimism in the industry.

"Inventories are back into the normal range," Helms said. "Unless we see a massive resurgence of COVID somewhere in the world, demand is nearing what it was pre-pandemic."

But Helms said air travel is the one area that has not yet recovered.

"Actually, gasoline and diesel demand are above pre-pandemic levels," Helms said. "And we think jet fuel is going to come back before the end of the year. But that will depend on what happens in other parts of the world."

Helms said among the Bakken players, there is a sense of "cautious optimism," based on  oil price and demand.

"We have 17 drilling rigs working, we have 9 frack crews running," Helms said. "We'd certainly like to have more activity than that."

Helms said oil is over $60 a barrel. He said most companies are now focused on next year.

"For most of our big Bakken players, this is a year of healing," Helms said. "Next year is their focus -- they have budgeted to really ramp up activity in 2022."

But Helms said there are still some uncertainties -- including the litigation over the Dakota Access Pipeline.

"All of that spreads a $5 to $7 negative blanket over oil activity," Helms said.

The Williston Basin Petroleum Conference ends Thursday.

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