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200 Active Drilling Rigs


Boom and bust is a cycle that truly defines North Dakota’s state history. From settlement to agriculture to weather, North Dakota knows good times and bad. The state’s oil industry is a classic example.

At the beginning of this decade, active drilling rigs in the state were on the upswing. The state passed 100 rigs in spring of 2010. By fall the rig count had broken the old record of 148 set in 1981.

The Department of Mineral Resources predicted 200 active rigs a year before the milestone happened in 2011. The number surprised the people of Continental Resources, the oil company established by Harold Hamm, who pioneered development of the Bakken. One Continental Resources supervisor said no one at the company thought the North Dakota play would take off like it did.

And the rigs continued to roll out. By May of 2012, the rig count reached 218. But then they started to fall with the price of oil, and by 2016, fewer than 60 were active, a number not seen since 2009.

While the number of rigs kept creeping down, activity continued in McKenzie County, the core of the Bakken, where a lot of drilling and production took place. By spring, the state had an average of 29 active rigs on any given day, a far cry from the rocking days of 200-plus.

Rigs taken offline were moved out of state or stored near Williston and Dickinson. Oil prices dipped quite low early in 2016 before rebounding to the $40 range, still not high enough to restore the rig count.

For his part in the Bakken oil boom, a monument went up to honor Harold Hamm’s first successful, horizontal, hydraulically fractured well. It was dedicated just weeks before North Dakota surpassed 200 rigs. The marker stands in Crosby.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura