Watch U.S. Oil Drilling Collapse—and Rise Again

By Tom RandallTom Randall and Blacki MigliozziBlacki Migliozzi
March 2, 2017

The boom looks like it’s back. The number of oil and gas rigs drilling in the U.S. has almost doubled since bottoming out at the lowest level in more than 75 years of records. The animation below shows the collapse of America’s energy boom beginning in 2015—and its subsequent resurrection beginning last May.

While two dozen nations are coordinating to cut oil production and rein in the global supply glut, U.S. producers are moving in the opposite direction. Over the last four months, output increased by half a million barrels a day. If that rate of expansion continues, the shale boom will break new production records by summer.

Geography
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Geographic Basins
× = Counties where drilling is no longer active.

This decade saw the fastest expansion of oil and gas production in American history. New technology drove the boom—particularly deployment of horizontal drilling through shale rock. Major shale regions include the Permian and Eagle Ford basins in Texas, the Scoop and Stack plays in Oklahoma and the Bakken formation in North Dakota.

After the global plunge in oil prices began in late 2014, producers began shutting drilling operations at an unprecedented rate. The number of active oil and gas rigs plummeted 80 percent to the fewest since Baker Hughes started tracking them in 1940.

The industry that's returned has been transformed. It employs fewer workers per rig and is even more tightly focused on the rich shale formations that drove America’s oil and gas boom before the crash. Almost 90 percent of the rigs added during the rebound have been of the horizontal variety.

Raw rig counts are losing their predictive power. The drilling industry is increasingly automated, and wells are pumping oil faster. Gone are the abundant high-paying jobs in pop-up oil towns filled with roughnecks. The U.S. now produces 9 million barrels a day; when the shale boom first crossed that threshold in 2014, more than twice as many rigs were actively drilling.