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N.D. big enough for OPEC: State producing as much oil as cartel member

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- North Dakota likely is producing more oil than OPEC member Ecuador.

In September, oil production in the state averaged 464,129 barrels a day, just short of Ecuador's 485,000, according to the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division.

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October's numbers aren't in yet, but with average daily production increasing by at least 20,000 barrels every month as it has in recent years, North Dakota will already have surpassed Ecuador by now.

Ten years ago, North Dakota produced 86,072 barrels daily.

"It speaks to the significance to how big the Bakken has become," said Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Oil and Gas Division. "When you start passing not just states, but other countries, that's a big deal. Couple that with the reversal of the Seaway Pipeline, we will be able to put Bakken oil into the South Texas market."

Oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota only reaches the Cushing, Okla., market, according to Helms.

Ecuador joined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 2007, and is the most recent of the 12 members. It also produces the least oil among the 12. OPEC is a cartel that endeavors to control international oil prices.

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According to the U.S. Energy Department, North Dakota is the fourth-largest producer in the United States, behind only Texas, Alaska and California.

If North Dakota were acountry, it now would be the 31st largest oil producer in the world, based on September production numbers, according to the CIA World Book of Facts. North Dakota oil production in September increased by 36 percent over September 2010.

Industry experts expect the state's production to increase to between 700,000 and 1 million barrels a day within five years. That would vault the state past nations such as the Sudan, Argentina, Colombia and possibly India.

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Oil prices surged past $100 a barrel Wednesday for the first time since July on news that Enbridge Inc. and Enterprise Products Partners LP would reverse the direction of the Seaway Pipeline from the oil hub of Cushing, Okla., to refiners on the Gulf Coast.

The Seaway Pipeline will operate with an initial capacity of 150,000 barrels a day by the second quarter of 2012, according to Enbridge, which expects to boost that capacity to about 400,000 barrels by early 2013.

Some of that crude could be transported through TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL Pipeline, which currently is planned to run through eastern Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska to Oklahoma, then continue to the Gulf Coast.

However, the State Department last week decided it would not make a ruling on the environmentally controversial pipeline until after the 2012 election.

Still, TransCanada Corp., which carries Canadian crude to Oklahoma through its Keystone Pipeline that runs through eastern North Dakota, announced Wednesday that it could start building the Oklahoma-Gulf Coast portion of Keystone XL even while it waits for U.S. approval of the project as a whole, according to a report by Reuters.

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