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Helms: State's daily oil production will double by '17

Lynn Helms, state director of department of mineral resources, holds a vial of Bakken crude oil July 19, 2010, at his office in Bismarck.

North Dakota's daily oil production will double to 1.6 million barrels by 2017, Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms said in a taped address to oil county and industry folks Thursday.

Helms also discussed the increasing need for well maintenance water, which he predicts will eclipse the need for fracking water, and new exploration in the Tyler Formation at the annual meeting of the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties at the Dickinson Ramada Grand Dakota Lodge. But the projections got the biggest reaction from the crowd.

"Every place is stable or inclining in well count, in jobs, in economic impacts," Helms said.

"This puts us in a mode where those risk factors don't really come home to roost in North Dakota and we hit mid-2017 at about a million-and-a-half barrels a day."

He also talked a new need for water -- for well maintenance.

The need for fracking water is well-known, he said. "But what we're beginning to realize is that these Bakken wells will need freshwater for maintenance over their life."

Operators are finding that when salt precipitation in wellbores causes production decline, it can be solved by putting freshwater down the well weekly, Helms said.

When that is factored into water use projections, maintenance water use exceeds frac water use.

"So we're in the process of trying to find a way to recycle ... produced water safely so that we can use produced water for fracking and save our freshwater resources for maintenance," Helms said.

Billings County highway superintendent Jeff Iverson said both the water use and oil production projections were "staggering."

"The figures that he brought in obviously are staggering for oil production," said Duane Dukart of Houston Engineering.

Helms labeled flaring as the No. 1 challenge for state regulators, and said he's begun a conversation with the North Dakota Industrial Commission about policy changes that could help decrease flaring.