Saturday, November 14, 2009

Natural Gas Rig Count Down 4 but Production Stable

NEW YORK, Nov 13 (Reuters) - The number of rigs drilling for natural gas in the United States fell by six this week to 728, according to a report on Friday by oil services firm Baker Hughes in Houston.

It was only the third time in the last 17 weeks that the U.S. natural gas drilling rig count lost ground after bottoming at 665 on July 17, its lowest level since May 3, 2002, when there were 640 gas rigs operating.

But the rig count is still down sharply since peaking above 1,600 in September of last year, standing at 770 rigs, or 51 percent, below the same week in 2008.

Many gas producers have scaled back drilling operations with credit still tight and natural gas cash prices hovering near $3 per million British thermal units (mmBtu), off more than 75 percent from July 2008 highs above $13.

While drilling has dropped sharply over the past year, traders noted production has not slowed much, with recent government data showing gross August gas output in the lower 48 states climbed 0.8 percent from July and stood at about 0.4 percent above year-earlier levels.

Most traders agreed more rig cuts may be necessary to balance an oversupplied market, with gas inventories at record highs and demand, particularly from the industrial sector, down sharply due to the recession. (Reporting by Joe Silha; editing by Jim Marshall)

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