UPDATE 1-US natgas rig count unchanged for week at 354-Baker Hughes

Fri May 31, 2013 1:28pm EDT

* Gas-directed rig count steady for second week
    * Gas rig count just above 18-year low
    * Horizontal rigs rise after two straight declines

    NEW YORK, May 31 (Reuters) - The number of rigs drilling for
natural gas in the United States was unchanged for a second
straight week, hovering just four rigs above the 18-year low
posted three weeks ago, data from Houston-based Baker Hughes Inc
 showed on Friday.
    The gas-directed rig count stood at 354 for a third week
after sinking to 350 during the week ended May 10, its lowest 
since June 1995. 
    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 gas prices, which hit a 21-month high of $4.444 per
million British thermal units a month ago, stirred concerns that
producer hedging at higher price levels could keep dry gas
output flowing. Prices this week have fallen back toward the $4
per mmBtu level.

    The oil-focused rig count rose eight to 1,410, after sliding
two weeks in a row. The count hit an eight-month high of 1,412
three weeks ago.
    Baker Hughes also reported horizontal rigs, the type often
used to extract oil or gas from shale, rose two to 1,089, after
also falling for two straight weeks.
    Gas futures prices, which were up slightly on the day, in
the $4.04 per mmBtu area just before the data was released, slid
slightly into negative territory following its release.
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