US rig count on the rise as Permian, other shale plays show strength

The Texas flag flies at Endeavor Energy Resources's Big Dog Drilling Rig 22 in the Permian basin outside of Midland, Texas, in 2014.The worst oil market in decades would be hard to spot in West Texas, where two-lane county roads are still jammed with trucks and energy companies are on the prowl for deals. CREDIT: Bloomberg News photo by Brittany Sowacke.

HOUSTON (AP) — The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. increased by three this week to 754.

A year ago, 502 rigs were active.

Houston oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. said Friday that 602 rigs sought oil and 151 explored for natural gas this week. One was listed as miscellaneous.

Texas increased by eight rigs and Wyoming gained one. The Permian Basin and Eagle Ford basins in Texas both saw an increase in three drilling rigs for the week. Those increases were offset by declines in other areas of the country.

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The Permian runs 250 miles wide and 300 miles long across West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. It’s a gold mine for oil drillers, not only because it has many more layers of oil-rich stone, but also because each seam is 10 or 15 times thicker than those in other shale formations such as the Bakken or Eagle Ford.

That means more opportunities to strike oil, and more pay zones. Permian wells can generate profit with crude selling for less than $40 a barrel, a threshold unheard of in other shale fields.

That’s why drillers already there have been boosting their efforts. Occidental Petroleum Corp., the biggest operator in the Permian, said in early February it may double output in the region during the next four years. The Permian is Occidental’s “foundation” and “growth engine,” Chief Executive Officer Vicki Hollub said in a conference call.

Alaska and Louisiana each lost two rigs and North Dakota declined by one.

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Arkansas, California, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah and West Virginia were all unchanged.

The U.S. rig count peaked at 4,530 in 1981. It bottomed out in May at 404. – The FWBP Staff and Bloomberg contributed to this report.