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Permian rigs up four to 480, Williston rigs down five

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Drill permits up 8% to 1,135 as 2018 budgets near end

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US combined oil and gas rigs totaled 1,171 this week, down five, with the biggest swings seen in the Permian and Williston Basins, S&P Global Platts data showed Thursday.

The total US rig count is up from 1,048 a year ago as the industry has recovered from a three-year oil price collapse that began in late 2014. But the pace of new activity is slowing as E&P operators exhaust capital budgets for the year.

Domestic rigs drilling for oil totaled 933, down nine on the week but up from 811 during the same week a year ago. Rigs chasing natural gas totaled 221, up four on the week, and up three from last year. Rigs drilling for both oil and gas totaled 17, unchanged from last week and down a bit from 20 this same week in 2017.

Permian rigs in West Texas and New Mexico inched up by four this week to 480, while Williston Basin rigs, largely in North Dakota, dropped five to 59. In other major basins, the rig count remained flattish.

Of total active rigs this week, 954 were horizontal, down two from the prior week, and 139 were vertical, down by seven. The remaining rigs were directional at 78, up four.

In specific oil-prone plays, Eagle Ford Shale rigs working in the South Texas play fell by three to 95 this week, while SCOOP-STACK rigs in Oklahoma were down one to 105. And in Colorado's DJ Basin, the number of rigs stood at 31 this week, unchanged.

EAGLE FORD MORE ACTIVE

Despite the decrease in rigs this week, the Eagle Ford has gained rigs in recent months as activity in the Permian, which is facing a crunch in available pipeline takeaway capacity, has slowed. That has allowed some operators with existing Eagle Ford leases to temporarily transfer capital there. The play's 95 rigs this week compares to 80 the first week of 2018.

And even though rigs fell this week in the Williston - home to the giant Bakken Shale oil reservoir - the basin has become more active this year from the roughly 50 rigs at the start in 2018, as oil prices have risen to around the mid-$70s/b. That is up nearly 50% from a year ago.

Also, rigs drilling for gas were largely stable this week. The Marcellus Shale basin, centered mostly in Pennsylvania, inched up by one rig to 55, while the Utica Shale chiefly in Ohio and the Haynesville Shale in East Texas/Louisiana were both flat week-on-week at 17 (for the fourth consecutive week) and 56, respectively.

While rigs have been fairly stable in the Marcellus over the past year, their number in the Haynesville has ramped up from the high 40s a year ago as drilling has become more economic there. Internal return rates were about 9% in September 2017, but are currently about 21%, according to Platts' Well Economics Analyzer.

The other two gas plays have higher current IRRs also, as drilling efficiencies have continued to evolve in well completions and costs, although the increase is not as dramatic as the Haynesville.

Drilling permits also increased by 8% this week to 1,135. That is up from 997 during the same week in 2017, as oily basins across the US have gained traction with higher crude prices.

The S&P Global Platts Rig Count is an independent benchmark assessing domestic onshore and offshore drilling activity on a weekly basis. The data is based on key factors: time, rig activity, well type, permit type, spud date and a rig's release date. Enhancements guard against double counting, fill previous gaps in public reporting and allow for more exact data on correct well type and orientation of wells.

The Platts Rig Count's key determinant of tallying data is identifying if a rig is active in the seven-day period before publication deadline. Only rigs on location and working during that window are included in the count. A rig is counted as active if it is post-spud and pre-release.

The rig count will be released every Thursday, reflecting the prior seven day of activity.

(Updates with added data, other content)

-- Starr Spencer, starr.spencer@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jeff Mower, newsdesk@spglobal.com