Oil rig count falls by 33, as decline continues

HOUSTON — Producers idled 33 rigs chasing crude oil this week, as a downturn in prices continued to take a bite out of drilling.

The total rig count fell by 43, with 33 oil rigs and nine gas rigs lost, according to data released Friday by oil service company Baker Hughes. Miscellaneous rigs fell by one. The number of rigs actively pursuing oil and gas now stands at 1,267, with 986 rigs chasing crude, 280 after natural gas and one miscellaneous rig.

The total rig count is now at its lowest level since early 2010.

Producers have rapidly put aside rigs since crude prices began to fall in mid-2014. Since September of 2014, the total rig count has fallen 34 percent from a peak of 1,931. Oil rigs, which peaked in October 2014 at 1,609, have fallen by 623 or about 39 percent.

Those declines so far are about in line with what analysts have projected, though the pace of the decline thus far has surprised some.

In January, a study by energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie estimated that the number of land rigs in the U.S. would fall by about as 30 percent from an average of about 1,800 in 2014 to less than 1,300 in 2015. The same report estimated that producers would cut exploration and production spending by $50 billion in 2015 compared to 2014.

The rapid decline in active rigs has boosted crude prices, as many traders have taken the declining activity to indicate slower production crude oil growth.

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