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US Oil Rig Count Falls for the Third Week to All-Time Low

In its weekly release, Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. BHI reported another 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 oil-directed rigs. The West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil futures are currently trading at around $39 per barrel.

Analysis of the Data

Weekly Summary: Rigs engaged in exploration and production in the U.S. totaled 443 in the week ended Apr 8, 2016. This was down by seven units from the previous week and an all-time low.

The current nationwide rig count is still less than half the prior-year level of 988. 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 has been touching new lows steadily.

Rigs engaged in land operations were 414 against 420 in the previous week. Inland water activity involved four rigs, flat with the prior week. Offshore drilling was down by one to 25 units.

Natural Gas Rig Count: The count was up by one from last week to 89. In fact, the current natural gas rig count is almost 80% below the high of 1,606 in late summer 2008. In the year-ago period, there were 225 active natural gas rigs.

Oil Rig Count: The count fell by eight from the previous week to 354. 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 is well below the previous year’s rig count of 760.

Rig Count by Type: The number of vertical drilling rigs fell by five to 50, 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 up by two to 393.

Gulf of Mexico (GoM): The GoM rig count was flat at 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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