U.S. Drilling Dips 1st Time in 2011

In its weekly release, Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI) reported a fall in the U.S. rig count (number of rigs searching for oil and gas in the country), primarily reflecting a decrease in the number of land rigs.

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), Pride International (PDE), Nabors Industries (NBR), Patterson-UTI Energy (PTEN) and Helmerich & Payne (HP) in gauging the overall business environment of the oil and gas industry.

Weekly Summary

Rigs engaged in exploration and production in the U.S. totaled 1,721 for the week ended February 11, 2011. This is down by 18 from the previous week’s rig count and represents the first decline in 6 weeks.

Despite this, the current nationwide rig count is 96% higher than the 2009 low of 876 (set in the week ended June 12, 2009) and significantly exceeds the prior-year level of 1,346. It rose to a 22-year high in 2008, peaking to 2,031 in the weeks ending August 29 and September 12.

Rigs engaged in land operations descended by 17 rigs to 1,679, offshore decreased by 1 rig to 26, while inland waters drilling activity remained steady at 16 rigs.

Natural Gas Rig Count

The natural gas rig count decreased for the second successive week to 906 (a loss of 5 rigs from the previous week). As a result of the decline, the number of gas-directed rigs are now down approximately 9% from the 18-month high reached during mid-August, 2010, when it hit 992, the highest since February 2009.

The current natural gas rig count remains 44% below its peak of 1,606 in late summer 2008 but has rebounded strongly after bottoming out to a 7-year low of 665 on July 17, 2009. In the year-ago period, there were 891 active natural gas rigs.

Oil Rig Count

The oil rig count was down by 13 to 805, the first decline in 6 weeks. Despite this week-over-week fall, the current tally is considerably more than the previous year’s rig count of 443. It has recovered strongly from a low of 179 in June 2009, rising almost 4.5 times.

Miscellaneous Rig Count

The miscellaneous rig count (primarily drilling for geothermal energy) at 10 remained unchanged from the previous week.

Rig Count by Type

The number of vertical drilling rigs fell by 13 to 516, 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 5 to 1,205.

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