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Natural gas transport capacity raises concerns

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Bakken Dickinson, 58602
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

BISMARCK (AP) -- North Dakota's natural gas production, which has been rising in step with its booming oil output, may require more pipeline capacity to carry the fuel to markets, a state official said.

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"Is the existing infrastructure in the ground going to be adequate? If it's not, let's start taking the steps now to make sure that different pipeline options are being planned and developed for production," said Justin Kringstad, director of the state Pipeline Authority.

The agency is contracting for a study of oil and natural gas production trends as wells drilled in western North Dakota's Bakken and Three Forks oil shale rock formations get older and less productive.

A standard assumption has been that oil and natural gas production fall at the same rate as a well ages, Kringstad said. However, early data indicates that natural gas output falls less rapidly, which would boost the fuel's expected production numbers in the future, he said.

The study will analyze oil and gas production ratios for a typical well throughout its expected life and provide forecasts of likely natural gas output as a result. It is scheduled for completion before July 1.

North Dakota has five major natural gas transmission pipelines. Kringstad said the study may justify building new pipelines or increased carrying capacity on existing lines. Another option is to encourage more natural gas use for power generation or manufacturing, he said.

North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources statistics show natural gas production hovering around 150 million cubic feet per day in the early 2000s. Last November, the latest month for which statistics are available, production reached 521 million cubic feet per day. One million cubic feet per day is enough to heat about 1,000 homes.

Tim Rasmussen, a spokesman for Williston Basin Interstate Pipeline Co., said the study's information about natural gas production trends would be helpful. Williston Basin doubled its natural gas transportation capacity for western North Dakota gas in 2011, and is working on doubling it again this year, he said.

"We have been going gangbusters in expanding our pipeline capacity in the Bakken," Rasmussen said Wednesday.

Williston Basin operates a major natural gas pipeline network in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. The company is a unit of MDU Resources Group Inc., which is based in Bismarck.

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