Oil, Gas Rigs in U.S. Climb by Three as Drilling Levels Out

Energy rigs in the U.S. were little changed this week as a slowdown in natural gas plays comes to an end and more efficient technologies shorten the time it takes to drill for crude, weakening demand for additional equipment.

Total energy rigs climbed by three to 1,762, data posted on Baker Hughes Inc.’s website show. The gas count fell for a third week, dropping four to 421, the field-services company based in Houston said. Oil rigs added seven to 1,337, the highest level this year.

The total energy rig count has fluctuated from 1,749 to 1,764 this year as producers become more familiar with unconventional plays and are able to complete more wells without adding rigs. More efficient techniques, such as pad-drilling, helped drive U.S. oil production to a 20-year high last week and natural gas supplies to a record in November.

Pioneer Natural Resources Co. has seen “dramatic” improvements in drilling efficiency, Timothy L. Dove, the Irving, Texas-based company’s chief operating officer, said in a conference call with investors yesterday.

In the Eagle Ford play in Texas, Pioneer plans to drill the same number of wells this year as it did in 2012 with two fewer rigs, Dove said.

‘Fairly Stable’

U.S. energy rigs will this year remain close to counts in the fourth quarter of 2012, Baker Hughes said in a filing with federal regulators Feb. 13.

“Gas rigs are fairly close to the lowest they’re going to go, and oil is fairly close to the highest it’s going to get,” James Williams, president of WTRG Economics in London, Arkansas, said by telephone. “I expect them to remain fairly stable.”

U.S. oil output climbed 67,000 barrels a day to 7.06 million in the week ended Feb. 8, the highest level since December 1992, the Energy Information Administration, a division of the Energy Department, said Feb. 13. Stockpiles of the feedstock rose 0.2 percent to 372.2 million barrels last week and reached a 22-year high of 387.3 million in June.

Crude for March delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell $1.45, or 1.5 percent, to settle at $95.86 a barrel, down 5.8 percent from a year earlier.

Gas stockpiles fell 157 billion cubic feet in the week ended Feb. 8 to 2.527 trillion, according to data compiled by the EIA. They reached a record high of 3.929 trillion cubic feet on Nov. 2.

Gas Slips

Natural gas for March delivery dropped 1 cent to settle at $3.153 per million British thermal units on the Nymex. Futures are down 5.9 percent this year.

Pennsylvania lost the most rigs, declining by five to 66. Texas gained the most, increasing by 14 to 838. North Dakota rigs slipped by one to 177.

Top producers in the Bakken play have plans to add about 15 rigs in May or June, Lynn Helms, director of the North Dakota Industrial Commission’s Department of Natural Resources said during a conference call today. Those plans may change should the federal government hand down stricter drilling regulations or impose new taxes on producers, he said.

“Operators are feeling a little bit cautious about what’s going on in Washington D.C.,” Helms said. “Regulations out of D.C. generally have a negative impact on production and drilling.”

Rigs on land gained three to 1,691. Rigs in inland waters were unchanged at 16. The offshore rig count, primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, was unchanged at 55, the most since April 2010.

Vertical rigs lost 2 to 429, the lowest since January 2010. Horizontal rigs fell for the first time since December, dropping by four to 1,139.

Canadian energy rigs jumped for a seventh week, increasing by 20 to 651, following a seasonal drilling pattern.