BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota has overtaken California as the third-largest oil-producing state in the nation.
Production totals released Thursday by both states show North Dakota pumped 16.9 million barrels of oil in January, compared with California’s 15.8 million barrels. North Dakota had a daily average of 546,000 barrels, besting California by more than 36,000 barrels.
Oil production data typically lags at least two months.
A record 152.9 million barrels of crude was produced in North Dakota last year, up almost 40 million more barrels than the previous record set a year earlier, the state Industrial Commission said.
North Dakota’s January oil production was up 11,000 barrels from December. California’s January total slipped about 900,000 for the month, and nearly 37,000 barrels daily, records show.
North Dakota had a record 6,600 wells producing in January, up about 200 from the previous month. California had more than 49,000 active wells, records show.
A record 205 rigs were drilling in North Dakota’s oil patch on Thursday.
Bill Winkler, an engineering and research manager with California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, said it was no surprise his state was surpassed by North Dakota in oil production.
“North Dakota has been on the upsweep and we’ve been on the decline for quite a while,” Winkler said. “With all the new production and drilling happening there, it was expected.”
North Dakota’s oil production has increased exponentially in the past decade with improved horizontal drilling techniques in the rich Bakken shale and Three Forks formations in the western part of the state.
Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said production milestones will continue, “if North Dakota keeps encouraging a positive business climate.”
North Dakota was the ninth-largest oil-producing state in 2006, and surpassed Louisiana in 2009 to take the No. 4 spot.
Alaska, the nation’s No. 2 oil producer behind Texas, pumped 18.3 million barrels in January, with a daily average of about 592,000 barrels, said Steve McMains, a statistician with the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
North Dakota officials have estimated the state could surpass Alaska within a year as the nation’s No. 2 oil producer.
McMains said Alaska’s annual oil production has dropped from 249.8 million in 2008 to 204.8 million last year. He said the state is on pace to produce fewer than 200 million barrels this year.
“Things are slow up here and people are going down there to North Dakota to find work,” he said.
Texas produced just more than 1 million barrels daily in December and 32.4 million barrels for the month, the most recent production numbers from that state show.
“Texas is probably out of reach,” said Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. “We’ll be very happy to settle in at No. 2 for a decade or two.”
Steven Grape, a U.S. Energy Department petroleum engineer, said domestic daily crude production averaged 5.67 million barrels in 2011, up from 5.47 the year before.
Domestic crude production had dropped each year between 1991 and 2008, Grape said. The bump in total production is partly attributed to North Dakota’s booming oil patch, he said.
“Absolutely it has helped,” Grape said.