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US Rig Count Continues to Fall, Touches Another All-Time Low

In its weekly release, Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. BHI reported a record fall in the U.S. rig count (number of rigs searching for oil and gas in the country) from the previous week. The decline stemmed from a lower number of both oil and gas-directed rigs. The West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil futures are currently trading at around $35 per barrel.

Analysis of the Data

Weekly Summary: Rigs engaged in exploration and production in the U.S. totaled 450 in the week ended Apr 1, 2016. This was down by 14 units from the previous week and was an all-time low.

The current nationwide rig count is still less than half the prior-year level of 1,028. Notably, the count had peaked in 1981 to 4,530. Inversely the all-time low was recorded at 488 during 1999. However, this was broken last month and subsequently the rig count is touching new lows steadily.

Rigs engaged in land operations were 420 against 432 in the previous week. Inland water activity involved four rigs, flat with the prior week. Offshore drilling was down by two to 26 units.

Natural Gas Rig Count: The count was down by four from last week to 88. In fact, the current natural gas rig count is almost 80% below the last decade high of 1,606 in late summer 2008. In the year-ago period, there were 222 active natural gas rigs.

Oil Rig Count: The count fell by 10 from the previous week to 362. Interestingly, the number had skyrocketed to 1,609 in Oct 2014 – the highest figure to have been reported since Baker Hughes started breaking up the oil and natural gas rig counts in 1987. The current tally not only lies on the lower end of the five-year range, but is also well below the previous year’s rig count of 802.

Rig Count by Type: The number of vertical drilling rigs rose by two to 55, while the horizontal/directional rig count (encompassing new drilling technology that can drill and extract gas from dense rock formations, also known as shale formations) was down by 16 to 395.

Gulf of Mexico (GoM): The GoM rig count was down by three to 24 units.


Key Barometer of Drilling Activity: The Baker Hughes data, issued since 1944, acts as an important yardstick for energy service providers in gauging the overall business environment of the oil and gas industry.

An increase or decrease in the Baker Hughes rotary rig count weighs heavily on demand for energy services like drilling, completion and production provided by companies that include large-cap firms such as Halliburton Co. HAL, Schlumberger Ltd. SLB and Weatherford International plc WFT.

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