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U.S. Drilling Rig Count Up by 6

Nilanjan Choudhury

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 the increase in oil rig count, partially offset by cutbacks in the tally of gas-directed rigs. In particular, the natural gas rig count dropped to a new 19-year low, while oil drilling jumped to another 27-year high.

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.

Analysis of the Data

Weekly Summary: Rigs engaged in exploration and production in the U.S. totaled 1,809 for the week ended Mar 28, 2014. This was up by 6 from the previous week’s rig count.

The current nationwide rig count is more than double the lowest level reached in recent years (876 in the week ended Jun 12, 2009) and is above the prior-year level of 1,748. It rose to a 22-year high in 2008, peaking at 2,031 in the weeks ending Aug 29 and Sep 12.

Rigs engaged in land operations increased by 11 to 1,741, offshore drilling was down by 5 to 50 rigs, while inland waters activity remained steady at 18 units.

Natural Gas Rig Count: Natural gas rig count decreased for the third successive week to 318 (a drop of 8 rigs from the previous week). As per the most recent report, the number of natural gas-directed rigs is at their lowest level since May 5, 1995 and is down approximately 60% from its recent peak of 811, achieved in 2012. In fact, the current natural gas rig count remains 80% below its all-time high of 1,606 reached in late summer 2008. In the year-ago period, there were 389 active natural gas rigs.

Oil Rig Count: The oil rig count was up by 14 to 1,487. The current tally – the highest since Baker Hughes started breaking up oil and natural gas rig counts in 1987 – is way above the previous year’s rig count of 1,354. It has recovered strongly from a low of 179 in June 2009, rising 8.3 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 was flat at 384, 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 6 to 1,425.

Gulf of Mexico (GoM): The GoM rig count was down by 4 to 49.


A Key Barometer of Drilling Activity: An increase or decrease in the Baker Hughes rotary rig count heavily depends on the demand for energy services – drilling, completion, production, etc. – provided by companies that include large-cap names like Halliburton Co. (HAL) and Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB).

However, our preferred pick in this group is Willbros Group Inc. (WG). The Houston-based firm – sporting a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) – has a solid secular growth story with potential to rise significantly from the current level.

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