Energy Economy

US Oil Rig Count Slashed by 7; Crude Price Wobbles but Remains Up

Paul Ausick

In the week ended March 29, 2018, the number of land rigs drilling for oil in the United States totaled 797, seven less than in the previous week and up by 135 compared with a total of 662 a year ago. Including 194 other land rigs drilling for natural gas and two listed as miscellaneous, there are a total of 993 working rigs in the country, down by two week over week and 169 more year over year. The data come from the latest Baker Hughes North American Rotary Rig Count released on Thursday this week.

West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil for May delivery settled at $64.38 a barrel on Wednesday and traded up about 0.7% Thursday afternoon at $64.84 shortly before regular trading closed.

The natural gas rig count increased by four to 194 this week. The count for natural gas rigs is now up by 34 year over year. Natural gas for May delivery traded up about 1.5% at around $2.74 per million BTUs, up about 14 cents since last Friday.

WTI crude oil prices have added $4 a barrel since the beginning of the month, up about 6.6%, near their year-to-date highs posted on March 23 and January 26. As we noted in our report on a recent survey by the Dallas Fed, a WTI price above $55 a barrel virtually guarantees every U.S. producer a profit of at least $10 a barrel on a new well and even more on an existing well.

Recent reports of a long-term production agreement between OPEC and Russia to limit the amount of oil on global markets may turn out to be premature. Many OPEC members, as well as Russia, likely can’t afford to reduce production enough to overcome rising production from the United States.

Among the states, Baker Hughes reported that Pennsylvania added two rigs this week, while Louisiana and Oklahoma each had one more. Texas lost three rigs, while New Mexico, Ohio and West Virginia each had one fewer.

In the Permian Basin of west Texas and southeastern New Mexico, the rig count now stands at 443, down by one compared with the previous week’s count. The Eagle Ford Basin in south Texas has 72 rigs in operation, unchanged week over week, and the Williston Basin (Bakken) in North Dakota and Montana now has 54 working rigs, also unchanged for the week.

Producers added no new horizontal rigs this week and the count remained at 870, while offshore drillers reported the termination of one rig, bringing the offshore total to 12, down 10 compared to last year’s total of 22 for the same period.