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Highlights

Nationwide rig count edges up to four-week high

Permian rig total jumps 11 to 429

Apache, ExxonMobil to decrease Permian rigs

New York — An uptick in gas-focused drilling pushed up the US active oil and gas rig count by one to a four-week high 838 for the week ending March 4, rig data provider Enverus said Thursday.

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Gas-focused drillers added three rigs for a total of 148, the highest since late January but still 77 behind year-ago levels. The number of active rigs seeking oil fell back two to 690, putting totals 170 under year-ago levels.

The year-on-year rig count decline comes amid a steep retrenchment of oil and gas prices. Front-month Henry Hub futures reached a fresh four-year low of $1.68/MMBtu this week, and front-month NYMEX WTI fell back to its lowest since July 2017 at $44.76/b last Friday.

But the largely sideways rig count belies a surge in Permian Basins drilling activity, where the number of active rigs jumped 11 to a six-month-high 429 last week. Rig counts in the West Texas/New Mexico basin have climbed nearly 9% from a late December nadir of 395, but further growth could be limited by weak as drillers scale back plans amid weak pricing outlooks.

ExxonMobil announced Thursday increased efficiencies would allow it to scale back its drilling rig count in the Permian while still hitting its longer-term output target of 1 million boe/d there by 2024. In the Midland sub-basin, which is the eastern side of the Permian, ExxonMobil expects rig counts to fall down 20% this year from its current 18. The company expects rig counts in the western Permian Delaware sub-basin, which started the year at 40, to peak later this month.

Apache announced last week is decided to end further development at the basin's Alpine High field in favor of developing its new oil-rich asset off the coast of Suriname. Apache currently has about 200 active wells at Alpine High.

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PERMIAN GAS AT NEGATIVE PRICES

Over the past 30 days, Permian gas production has trended modestly lower, averaging 11.8 Bcf/d. Despite the recent slowdown, forward markets now show negative prices enduring over the next several months. But according to S&P Global Platts Analytics, this year's anticipated cash market volatility won't significantly restrain production growth in the Permian; by mid-summer, output is forecast to surpass 13 Bcf/d and approach 14 Bcf/d by year's end.

Kinder Morgan said Wednesday that future of its Permian Pass natural gas pipeline remains unclear amid challenges securing commercial support and volatile energy markets. During an investor presentation, Chief Strategy Officer Dax Sanders said while conversations with potential shippers continue for Permian Pass, no contracts have been signed to date.

DENVER-JULESBURG RIG COUNT INCHES UP

Rig counts also ticked higher week on week in the Denver-Julesburg basin, where the number of active rigs moved up three to 28. The number of active rigs in the basin was last higher in August 2019.

But DJ gains were offset by flagging drilling activity across most of the major named basins.

The number of active rigs in the Bakken play fell back to 52, a decline of three week on week, while drillers in the Eagle Ford and SCOOP-STACK plays each idled one rig, putting counts there down to 79 and 41, respectively.

The gas-rich the Marcellus and Utica shales in Appalachia each shed two rigs, bringing totals to 38 and 10, respectively.

The Haynesville, another gas-rich play, shed one rig to 41. Haynesville rigs are down more than 20% since the start of December.