U.S. Drilling Shows Signs of Sustained Recovery

Gas rig in the Marcellus field (file image)

By Reuters 2016-10-24 21:46:00

[By Jack Kemp]

U.S. oil and gas drillers are reporting the biggest and most sustained upturn since oil prices began slumping in the middle of 2014.

The number of rigs drilling across the country has risen by 149, or 40 percent, since hitting a cyclical low at the end of May, according to oilfield services company Baker Hughes.

The active rig count has risen in 18 of the last 21 weeks confirming that a sustained upturn in drilling is occurring.

Most of the extra rigs are targeting oil-rich formations (127) rather than gas-bearing formations (21) though most wells will produce a mix of hydrocarbons.

Oil prices started rising earlier than natural gas prices which likely explains why so many additional rigs have been deployed in oil-rich areas.

The number of oil-directed rigs has been rising since the end of May while the number of gas rigs has been rising consistently only since the end of August.


More than two-thirds of the extra rigs have been deployed in the neighbouring southwest states of Texas (80), New Mexico (+16) and Oklahoma (+14).

Within those states most of the additional rigs have been deployed in the Permian (90) and Anadarko (11) basins of western Texas, eastern New Mexico and western Oklahoma.

The Permian and Anadarko offer near-ideal conditions for low-cost and low-risk oil and gas production despite the continuing slump in other regions.

These are some of the oldest, largest and best understood hydrocarbon basins in the United States with production stretching back to the 1920s ("Trek of the oil finders", Owen, 1975).

Hundreds of thousands of wells have been drilled in the region: there are few places on the planet where the subsurface geology has been better explored and understood.

The sedimentary basins are many kilometres deep and there are multiple thick oil and gas bearing formations stacked on top of one another which can be exploited simultaneously.

The region is dominated by oil and gas production, with a friendly regulatory framework, an established liquids and gas gathering network and a large eco-system of exploration and production, drilling and oilfield services firms.