U.S. drillers cut oil rigs for seventh week in a row: Baker Hughes

(Reuters) - U.S. energy firms cut oil rigs for a seventh week in a row as major producers slam the brakes on shale oil production at a time when crude prices and fuel demand have plunged due to global lockdowns to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

FILE PHOTO: Pump jacks operate at sunset in Midland, Texas, U.S., February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxford/File Photo/File Photo

Drillers cut 53 oil rigs in the week to May 1, bringing the total count down to 325, the lowest since June 2016, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said in its closely followed report on Friday.

The oil rig count, an early indicator of future output, is down 60% from the same week a year ago when 807 oil rigs were active.

More than half of the total U.S. oil rigs are in the Permian basin in West Texas and eastern New Mexico, where active units dropped by 27 this week to 219, the lowest since November 2016.

The total number of oil and gas rigs active in the United States was down 57 to 408 this week, just above the all-time low of 404 rigs during the week ended May 20, 2016, according to Baker Hughes data going back to 1940.

Analysts at Raymond James projected total U.S. oil and natural gas rigs would collapse from around 800 at the end of 2019 to a record low of around 400 by the middle of the year and around 200 at the end of 2020. The investment bank forecast the rig count would average a mere 225 rigs in 2021.

Exxon Mobil Corp and Chevron Corp on Friday outlined deep cuts in output and investments in the Permian shale basin, the top U.S. oilfield where growth in recent years made America the world’s top oil producer and a net exporter for the first time in decades.

ConocoPhillips, the world’s largest independent oil and gas producer, plans to accelerate output cuts by 40,000 barrels per day (bpd) in May and bring its reduction in North America by June to 460,000 bpd, the largest cut by any producer.

U.S. crude futures traded around $19 per barrel on Friday, on track to rise for the first time in four weeks as the Organization of the Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its allies embarked on record output cuts to tackle a supply glut due to the coronavirus crisis. [O/R]

Looking ahead, U.S. crude was trading higher at around $25 a barrel for the balance of 2020 and $32 for calendar 2021 on expectations demand will jump in coming months as the economy snaps back after governments loosen travel and work restrictions once the spread of coronavirus slows. That compares with an average of $57.04 in 2019.

U.S. financial services firm Cowen & Co said 34 of the independent exploration and production (E&P) companies it tracks have cut their spending plans since the initial failed OPEC+ oil production cut agreement between Russia and Saudi Arabia on March 6, implying a 42% year-over-year decline in 2020 capex.

Before the failure of the OPEC+ agreement, Cowen said the independent E&Ps had expected to cut spending by an average of 11% in 2020 from 2019 levels. In 2019, those companies cut spending by around 10% from 2018 levels.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Marguerita Choy