Oil Rig Count Adds 1; Natural Gas Drillers Drop 8 Last Week

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In the week ended August 28, the number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States totaled 675, compared with 674 in the prior week and 1,575 a year ago. Including 202 other rigs mostly drilling for natural gas, there are a total of 877 working rigs in the country, down by eight week over week, and down 1,037 year over year. The data come from the latest Baker Hughes Inc. (NYSE: BHI) North American Rotary Rig Count.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil had a wild week, posting a 52-week low of $37.75 a barrel on Monday and rattling around at $40 a barrel until midday Thursday, when the price took off and ended the week at $45.33, after touching a high of $45.90. The U.S. commercial crude oil inventory dropped by 5.5 million barrels last week, virtually all due to a drop of more than 800,000 barrels a day in crude imports.

We speculated on possible reasons why crude might have jumped so high in a single week. None of those possibilities seems strong enough to push prices up by more than 20% in just under five days. That means that, barring some unexpected disruption to supply, prices should at least stop rising so fast and perhaps even back off the Friday high. We would not bet the ranch on it though.

The number of rigs drilling for oil in the United States is down by 1,575 year over year, but it rose by one from the previous week. The natural gas rig count fell by nine from 211 to 202. The count for natural gas rigs is down by 338 year over year.

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The drop in the natural gas rig count last week appears to have come outside the major dry gas regions. The Marcellus shale play lost just one rig and the Utica shale lost none. These remain the two most productive gas fields in the country, responsible for about 85% of total year-over-year growth in natural gas production.

Gasoline stockpiles increased by 1.7 million barrels last week.

Hedge funds — under the Managed Money heading in the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) weekly Commitments of Traders report — dumped 3,154 short contracts last week and added to their long positions by 3,526 contracts. The movement reflects changes as of the August 25 settlement date. Managed money holds 245,238 long positions, compared with 156,004 short positions. Hedge funds cut their short positions for just the second time in seven weeks and resumed their usual roles as oil bulls.

Among the producers themselves, short positions outnumber longs, 301,821 to 166,580. The number of short positions last week fell by 13,485 contracts and longs fell by 11,799 positions. Positions among swaps dealers show 299,743 shorts versus 218,135 longs. Swaps dealers cut 2,379 contracts from their short positions last week and dropped 7,085 long contracts.

Among the states, Louisiana lost six rigs last week and New Mexico lost two. Colorado, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania each lost one rig. Texas added three rigs last week, while all other states tracked in the Baker Hughes survey experienced no rig count changes.

In the Permian Basin of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico, the rig count rose by two to 255. The Eagle Ford Basin in south Texas dropped two rigs to bring its count to 97, and the Williston Basin (Bakken) in North Dakota and Montana now has 73 working rigs, unchanged from the prior week.

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Enterprise Products Partners L.P. (NYSE: EPD) lists a posted price of $41.67 per barrel for WTI and an August 29 price of $32.41 a barrel for North Dakota Light Sweet. The posted price for a barrel of Eagle Ford crude is $41.63. All prices are more than $4.00 a barrel higher than they were a week ago, gaining back about half their losses over the past five weeks.

The pump price of gasoline decreased week over week. Saturday morning’s average price in the United States was $2.49 a gallon, down nearly 4.8% from $2.615 a week ago.