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Natural Gas Rig Count Slips Further

Zacks Equity Research

In its weekly release, Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI) reported a dip in the U.S. rig count (number of rigs searching for oil and gas in the country). This can be attributed to a decrease in the tally of both oil and natural gas-directed rigs. In particular, the natural gas rig count dropped for the seventh time in 8 weeks to touch another near 13-year low.

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 1,971 for the week ended June 15, 2012. This was down by 13 from the previous week’s count and represents the third decrease in the past 4 weeks.

Despite this, 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 significantly exceeds the prior-year level of 1,860. 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 descended by 15 to 1,899, while offshore drilling was up by 2 to 51 rigs. Meanwhile, inland waters activity remained steady at 21 units.

Natural Gas Rig Count: The natural gas rig count decreased for the seventh time in 8 weeks to 562 (a drop of 3 rigs from the previous week). As per the most recent report, the number of gas-directed rigs is at their lowest level since September 10, 1999 and is down approximately 40% from its 2011 peak of 936, reached during mid-October.

The current natural gas rig count remains 65% below its all-time high of 1,606 reached in late summer 2008. In the year-ago period, there were 870 active natural gas rigs.

Oil Rig Count: The oil rig count – which hit a 25-year high of 1,414 in the previous week – was down by 9 to 1,405. Nevertheless, the current tally is way above the previous year’s rig count of 984. It has recovered strongly from a low of 179 in June 2009, rising approximately 7.9 times.

Miscellaneous Rig Count: The miscellaneous rig count (primarily drilling for geothermal energy) at 4 was down by 1 from the previous week.

Rig Count by Type: The number of vertical drilling rigs rose by 4 to 576, 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 down by 17 at 1,395. In particular, horizontal rig units – that reached an all-time high of 1,193 in May this year – decreased by 15 from last week’s level to 1,162.

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