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Highlights

Loss of gas rigs mainly in Haynesville, Marcellus

Permian rigs up to 403, biggest weekly basin change

Rig count down by a third since mid-November 2018

Houston — The net number of US oil and gas rigs decreased by one to 835 during the first full week of 2020, with total rigs chasing natural gas at the lowest level since December 2016, data consultants Enverus said Thursday.

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In an unusual twist this past week, oil rigs added to the US fleet rose by 10 to 680, while gas rigs dropped 10 to 153. The one-rig net loss domestic count came from neither oil nor gas-directed rigs, but rather other classifications.

Two largely gas-prone basins – the Haynesville Shale of East Texas/Northwest Louisiana and Marcellus Shale largely sited in Pennsylvania – are each at their lowest rig tallies since early 2017.

The Haynesville was down four to 44 while the Marcellus was down three to 34.

The Haynesville's rig count is the lowest since April 2017, while Marcellus rigs are the lowest since January 2017. This week's three-rig loss came from the Dry Marcellus, leaving 15 rigs. The Wet Marcellus stood at 19 rigs this week, unchanged.

US upstream operators have dropped rigs steadily in the past 14 months. From a recent peak of 1,237 in mid-November 2018, fully 402 rigs – about a third – have left the oil patch.

Despite ongoing budget austerity, upstream companies produced 1.1 million b/d more oil in December 2019 than in the same month the year before. And, Lower 48 natural gas production was up by 6 Bcf/d to 95 Bcf/d.

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OIL, GAS PRODUCTION UP DESPITE HEADWINDS

"[That] all happened in the face of continued infrastructure constraints – crude prices that fell from the mid-$60s/b in April to average $55/b from May through October and gas prices that in several months were crushed to the lowest level in 20 years," RBN Energy analyst Nick Cacchione said in a recent report.

In the past week, prices for both oil and gas prices improved a bit, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics. WTI averaged $61.96/b, up 43 cents on the week, while WTI Midland averaged $62.74/b, up 49 cents.

The Bakken Composite price averaged $56.19/b, up 29 cents.

Gas prices also rose slightly on the week. At Henry Hub, prices averaged $2.06/MMBtu, up 5 cents, and at Dominion South, the average was $1.70/MMBtu, up 3 cents.

Experts project an overall 7% drop in US capital budgets this year but still think the rig count could climb some, owing to capex increases by some larger players.

"The US land rig count is currently stalled out ... due to continued capital discipline amid uncertain oil and gas prices headed into 2020," Bob Williams, Enverus' director of content, said.

"The beneficiary will be the Permian Basin because it features the best economics, generally speaking," Williams added. "And [nearly] half of the existing active fleet is already there."

PERMIAN ADDED MOST RIGS

Among large basins, the biggest rig change came from the Permian. The West Texas/New Mexico basin added seven rigs for a total 403. And, the Denver-Julesburg Basin in Colorado increased by five rigs to 25.

Permian rigs have bounced around under the 410 mark since mid-October in the play, which produces over a third of the US' roughly 12.6 million b/d of oil production.

Lesser shifts in basin rig counts came this week from the Eagle Ford Shale, up by two to 81, while the SCOOP-STACK play of Oklahoma and the Utica Shale mostly located in Ohio each gained a rig. That pushed SCOOP-STACK to 43 rigs and the Utica to 12.

Rigs in the Williston Basin, mostly in North Dakota, were unchanged this past week at 54. Rigs in "other" basins – classified as those outside the eight large named US plays – dropped 10 rigs for a total 139 this week.

In addition, total permit approvals were up by 151 week on week to 427. The Permian was up the most – 45, to a total 157 permits.

Also, 38 more permits were approved in the Eagle Ford on the week, for a total 52, while the DJ Basin had 22 more than last week, making a total 26 permits.

The remaining large basins added or were down 10 permits or less apiece.