UPDATE 1-US natgas rig count falls, 3rd drop in 4 weeks -Baker Hughes
* Gas rig count slips to 418, just above 14-year low * Horizontal rig count falls to lowest in 19 months NEW YORK, March 22 (Reuters) - The number of rigs drilling for natural gas in the United States fell this week for the third time in four weeks, as producers continued to tamp down dry gas drilling, despite strong price gains over the last five weeks. The gas-directed rig count, which fell this week by 13 to 418, is hovering just above the 14-year low of 407 posted two weeks ago, according to data from Houston-based oil services company Baker Hughes Inc on Friday. Producers have mostly 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. But a 25 percent run up in spot gas prices since mid February to an 18-month high of about $4 per million British thermal units has stirred expectations that gas production, still flowing at or near record highs, could increase further. The oil-focused rig count, which hit a 10-month low of 1,315 two months ago, fell by 17 to 1,324, Baker Hughes data showed. The oil count is up 11 rigs, or just under 1 percent, from the same week last year. Baker Hughes also reported that horizontal rigs, the type often used to extract oil or gas from shale, tumbled 31 this week to a 19-month low of 1,100. The horizontal count is down 8.5 percent from the record high of 1,193 set last May. Drilling for natural gas has mostly been in decline for the last 18 months. The count is down about 55 percent since peaking in 2011 at 936, but so far production has not shown any significant signs of slowing. The associated gas produced from more-profitable shale oil and shale gas liquids wells has kept dry gas flowing at or near an all-time high. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects marketed gas production in 2013 to hit a record high for the third straight year. Gas futures prices, which showed little reaction to the report, are currently trading down about a penny in the $3.92 per mmBtu area.
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