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ND pumps record oil in 2011

BISMARCK -- North Dakota oil drillers produced a record 152.9 million barrels of crude in 2011, up more than 35 percent and nearly 40 million more barrels than the previous record set a year earlier, the state Industrial Commission said Wednesday.

State records show North Dakota also produced a record 155.9 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2011, up from 113 billion cubic feet the year before.

"We've really had a phenomenal growth rate and this blows previous years' gains out of the water," said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.

The state has set oil production records each year since 2004, when production was pegged at 31.1 million barrels, the state Industrial Commission said.

"Many billions of dollars" of infrastructure improvements such as pipelines and rail facilities have been done since then to exploit the rich Bakken and Three Forks formations in western North Dakota, Ness said.

"We're now able to move more oil and produce more oil with fewer impacts," Ness said.

Ness and Justin Kringstad, director of the state Pipeline Authority, said North Dakota's unseasonably warm winter has helped boost oil production, allowing for more favorable working conditions.

"The mild winter has been a big windfall for the industry as a whole," Kringstad said.

North Dakota produced an average of 534,884 barrels of oil daily in December, up from 344,122 in December 2010. The state had 6,565 producing oil wells in December, or 1,210 more wells than in December 2010, state documents show.

December production figures were the latest available, because oil production numbers typically lag at least two months.

The state Industrial Commission said 202 rigs were drilling Wednesday, up from 165 a year ago.

North Dakota sweet crude was fetching about $83 a barrel this week, up from about $78 this time last year.