UPDATE 1-US natgas rig count up sharply from 14-mth low-Baker Hughes
* Gas rig count up 24 to 431 * Biggest jump in over three years * Oil rigs unchanged, horizontal up 1 NEW YORK, March 15 (Reuters) - The number of rigs drilling for natural gas in the United States rose by the largest number in over three years this week, bouncing of a 14-month low as gas prices continued their march higher, according to data from oil service firm Baker Hughes on Friday. The natural gas rig count has been in sharp decline since 2010 as tumbling prices made drilling for dry gas largely uneconomic, but prices have rallied 17 percent this year, potentially making natural gas extraction more attractive. The count rose by 24 to 431, the data showed, the first rise in three weeks. It was the biggest gain since January 2010 and came on the back of five drops in the previous six weeks. U.S. producers have largely been curbing dry-gas drilling in favor of more profitable oil and liquids-rich plays such as Eagle Ford in Texas and Marcellus in Appalachia. The oil-focused rig count, which hit a 10-month low of 1,315 six weeks ago, was unchanged at 1,341, Baker Hughes data showed. The oil count is up 24 rigs from the same week last year. The horizontal rig count rose 1 to 1,131. While gas prices have risen sharply in recent weeks, traders and analysts were skeptical that the one rig count jump represented a turnaround for gas drilling. "I doubt that we'd see a reaction to prices that quickly," said Tim Evans, energy specialist at Citi Futures in New York. "There could have been some weather-related swings too - halting drilling due to cold and then restarting." Drilling for natural gas has largely been in decline for more than a year since peaking in 2011 at 936. Gas futures prices pared gains and slid about one cent immediately after the report, but remained around $3.86 per million British thermal units, just under a 3-1/2 month high hit earlier in the day.
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