October 9, 2009 / 5:23 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. natural gas rig count climbs 14 to 726

NEW YORK, Oct 9 (Reuters) - The number of rigs drilling for natural gas in the United States climbed by 14 this week to 726, according to a report on Friday by oil services firm Baker Hughes in Houston.

The U.S. natural gas drilling rig count has gained in 11 of the last 12 weeks but is still down sharply since peaking above 1,600 in September last year, standing at 822 rigs, or 53 percent, below the same week last year.

During the week ended July 17, 2009, the natural gas rig count slipped to 665, its lowest level since May 3, 2002, when there were 640 gas rigs operating.

Tighter access to credit and a 70 percent slide in natural gas prices over the past 15 months to below $4 per mmBtu forced many producers to scale back gas drilling operations.

The steep declines in drilling this year have started to slow production and tighten supplies, but most traders agreed it has not been enough yet to offset record high inventories and steep recession-related cuts in demand, particularly from the industrial sector. (Reporting by Joe Silha; Editing by Walter Bagley)

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