Natural Gas Drilling Reverses Trend

Zacks

In its weekly release, Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI) reported a rise in the U.S. rig count (number of rigs searching for oil and gas in the country). This can be attributed to an increase in the tally of natural gas-directed rigs, partially offset by cutbacks in oil rig count.

The Baker Hughes rig count, issued since 1944, acts as an important yardstick for drilling contractors such as Transocean Inc. (RIG), Diamond Offshore (DO), Noble Corp. (NE), Nabors Industries (NBR), Patterson-UTI Energy (PTEN), Helmerich & Payne (HP), etc. in gauging the overall business environment of the oil and gas industry.

Analysis of the Data

Weekly Summary: Rigs engaged in exploration and production in the U.S. totaled 1,965 for the week ended July 06, 2012. This was up by 6 from the previous week’s count and represents the first increase in the past 4 weeks.

The current nationwide rig count is more than double that of the 6-year low of 876 (in the week ended June 12, 2009) and comfortably exceeds the prior-year level of 1,887. It rose to a 22-year high in 2008, peaking at 2,031 in the weeks ending August 29 and September 12.

Rigs engaged in land operations climbed by 3 to 1,896, offshore drilling was up by 2 to 50 rigs, while inland waters activity gained a rig to reach 19 units.

Natural Gas Rig Count: The natural gas rig count – which recently slumped to a 13-year low – increased for just the fourth time in 26 weeks to 542 (a gain of 8 rigs from the previous week). Despite the weekly improvement, the number of gas-directed rigs is down approximately 42% from its 2011 peak of 936, reached during mid-October.

In fact, the current natural gas rig count remains 66% below its all-time high of 1,606 reached in late summer 2008. In the year-ago period, there were 873 active natural gas rigs.

Oil Rig Count: The oil rig count – which was at a 25-year high of 1,421 in the previous week – was down by 2 to 1,419. Nevertheless, the current tally is way above the previous year’s rig count of 1,007. It has recovered strongly from a low of 179 in June 2009, rising by nearly 8 times.

Miscellaneous Rig Count: The miscellaneous rig count (primarily drilling for geothermal energy) at 4 remained unchanged from the previous week.

Rig Count by Type: The number of vertical drilling rigs fell by 4 to 549, while the horizontal/directional rig count (encompassing new drilling technology that has the ability to drill and extract gas from dense rock formations, also known as shale formations) was up by 10 at 1,416. In particular, horizontal rig units – that reached an all-time high of 1,193 in May this year – increased by 3 from last week’s level to 1,174.

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