Oil drilling in Montana has all but tapped out, according to state records showing that the state has been without a major drilling rig since April.
Observers said the inactivity is due to low oil prices, which have also slowed drilling activity in North Dakota’s much more active Bakken formation, though crews are still drilling there.
Montana drilling has been very limited during the Bakken oil boom, but it’s been decades since the state was without a single drilling rig. State Board of Oil and Gas officials suspect that Montana might have been without a drilling rig in 2009, though Rep. Tom Richmond, R-Lockwood, said it’s been much longer since the state experienced a drilling drought. Richmond was Board of Oil and Gas director before retiring last year.
“We might have got close in 2009, but I’m thinking it was probably some time in the 1990s when it was zero,” Richmond said.
It’s possible there are a few very small operators who go uncounted. Ben Jones, a petroleum engineer for the Board of Oil and Gas, said small operators who drill shallow wells with small equipment often go uncounted. However, the production of those wells can be as little as one barrel a day.
States keep weekly reports about intentions to drill, but the source to which many insiders defer is Baker Hughes. The drilling equipment company pioneered by Howard Hughes has been tracking drilling rigs since 1944. The old joke, Richmond said, was that the only drillers who avoided the list were so small they ordered less than a bit a month from Hughes.
According to Baker Hughes Investor Relations, Montana oil drilling flatlined in mid-March. The same month a year earlier, Montana had six oil rigs. In the past 12 months, state oil rig numbers were highest in October at 14.