Photographer: Brittany Sowacke/Bloomberg

Oil Production Jumps in March Even as U.S. Drilling Collapses

The flow of oil continues in the face of a sharp cutback in drilling

The U.S. keeps pumping oil at a near-record pace, in spite of the collapse in prices over the past year and cutbacks in drilling.

Crude production rose 1.3 percent in March to the highest level since 1973, a Federal Reserve index showed Wednesday. Output was up 13.7 percent from a year ago, according to the central bank's report on industrial production. For all of 2014, the gauge of oil extraction climbed 15.4 percent. 

The pickup in output last month occurred even as producers put fewer wells in the ground. Drilling plunged 17.7 percent in March from a month earlier and was down at an almost 70 percent annualized pace in the first quarter, the biggest decline in almost six years,  according to the Fed's seasonally adjusted figures.

As Morgan Stanley economist Ted Wieseman noted in an e-mail to clients Wednesday, the collapse in drilling eventually will reduce oil production as existing wells become depleted or less profitable and are capped.  So far, though, there's no sign of that happening as American producers continue to add supply to a world market already awash in oil.  

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