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Added workforce pumps up oil production; Stark, Williams counties see increase

WILLISTON -- A boost in the workforce helped Williams County add 66 producing oil wells in May, increasing daily production by more than 21,000 barrels that month, the latest figures show.

The significant jump -- a 23 percent increase in oil production over April -- was due to additional crews that do hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, said Lynn Helms, director of Mineral Resources.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process in which water, chemicals and sand are injected under high pressure to form tiny fractures in the rock to extract the oil.

With the additional crews working in Williams County, the county gained as many producing wells as any other county during May, Helms said.

"That's very unusual to put that many new wells in production," Helms said.

At the end of May, North Dakota had 336 idle wells that had been drilled but were waiting for fracking crews.

Williams County accounted for about one-third of those idle wells with 108.

Helms said he expects another big jump in Williams County oil production when June numbers are released as the frack crews continue to work on those idle wells.

"Their intention is to get caught up," Helms said.

Residents of Williams County, which includes Williston, likely weren't aware that additional fracking crews were working in the area, Helms said.

"If it wasn't so busy already, it would be noticeable," he said.

At the end of May, Williams County had 973 producing wells and produced 110,738 barrels of oil per day, according to preliminary figures from the Department of Mineral Resources.

Stark County had a nearly 18 percent increase in oil production for May.

Helms said the increase was due to companies having good results drilling in the Three Forks formation in the Dickinson area.

Divide County saw a 17 percent increase in oil production and Burke County saw a 38 percent increase in May. All other oil-producing counties saw percentage increases in the single digits.

Helms said the percentage increase in Burke County was because its production numbers are lower to begin with, and also because companies are seeing good results drilling in an area near the Divide County line.

Mountrail County continued to be the top-producing oil county in May with 182,235 barrels per day and McKenzie County produced 143,249 barrels per day, according to the preliminary figures.

North Dakota's total oil production for May was 19.8 million barrels, or 639,000 barrels per day, about an 8 percent increase over April.

Middle East turmoil pushing oil higher again

NEW YORK (AP) -- Rising tensions in the Middle East have pushed oil prices up 19 percent over the past three weeks and are leading to a rise in prices at the gasoline pump.

Since the start of July, average gasoline prices in the U.S. have climbed 11 cents to $3.44 per gallon. Pump prices are expected to creep higher in the coming weeks, and they aren't likely to fall back to their June low of $3.33 for the rest of the summer, analysts say.

Crude rose $2.79, about 3 percent, to $92.66 per barrel Thursday, its highest level since mid-May. The price has risen $15 per barrel since June 28, when oil hit a low of $77.69.

The oil market is responding to a series of events in recent days that have raised concerns -- yet again -- that Iran will try to block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway in the Persian Gulf through which one-fifth of the world's oil travels every day.

Iran raised this threat late last year after the U.S. and Europe announced sanctions designed to crimp Iran's oil sales, sending oil soaring above $100 per barrel. Western nations are trying force Iran to abandon what the West says are efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.

Tensions eased, and oil prices fell, when Iran agreed to enter negotiations over its nuclear program.