UPDATE 1-U.S. natgas rig count slips 1 to 353 -Baker Hughes
* Gas-directed rig count hovering just above 18-year low * Horizontal rigs slip for fourth time in five weeks * Oil rig count climbs to nine-month high NEW YORK, June 14 (Reuters) - The number of rigs drilling for natural gas in the United States fell by one this week but was still hovering just above an 18-year low posted five weeks ago, data from Houston-based Baker Hughes showed on Friday. The gas-directed rig count, which was unchanged in three previous weeks, stood at 353 this week. The count slid 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. Gas prices hit a 21-month high of $4.444 per million British thermal units in early May and stirred concerns that producer hedging at higher prices could keep dry gas output flowing. But gas futures prices on Friday were trading at about $3.74, just above a three-month low of $3.71 hit on Wednesday. The oil-focused rig count climbed by seven this week to a nine-month high of 1,413, Baker Hughes data showed. The oil count is up eight rigs from the same week last year. Baker Hughes reported horizontal rigs, the type often used to extract oil or gas from shale, lost ground for the fourth time in five weeks, shedding two to 1,086. The horizontal count is down 9 percent from the record high of 1,193 set in May 2012. Drilling for natural gas has mostly been in decline for the last 20 months. The count is down about 62 percent since peaking in October 2011 at 936, but so far production has not slowed much, if at all, from the record high hit last year. The associated gas produced from shale oil and shale gas liquids wells has kept dry gas flowing at a brisk rate. The U.S. Energy Information Administration still expects gas output in 2013 to post a record high for a third year.