U.S. drillers add oil rigs for second week in a row: Baker Hughes

(Reuters) - U.S. energy companies this week added oil rigs for a second week in a row as crude prices traded near their highest levels since the summer of 2015 as major oil producing countries extended a global deal to limit supply.

Drillers added two oil rigs in the week to Dec. 1, bringing the total count up to 749, the highest since September, General Electric Co’s Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its closely followed report on Friday.

U.S. producers applauded Thursday’s decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC producers led by Russia to extend oil output cuts of about 1.8 million barrels per day beyond March until the end of 2018 as they try to finish clearing a global glut of crude.

Rising U.S. production, however, has been a thorn in OPEC’s side, undermining the impact of its output curbs.

U.S. production rose to 9.5 million bpd in September, its highest monthly output since reaching 9.6 million bpd in April 2015, according to federal energy data going back to 2005. On an annual basis, U.S. output peaked at 9.6 million bpd in 1970.

The U.S. rig count, an early indicator of future output, is still much higher than a year ago when only 477 rigs were active after energy companies boosted spending plans for 2017 as crude started recovering from a two-year price crash around the same time OPEC agreed to production cuts a year ago.

The increase in U.S. drilling lasted 14 months before stalling in August, September and October as some producers started trimming their 2017 spending plans after prices turned softer over the summer. Energy firms started adding rigs again in November as crude prices rose.

U.S. crude futures rose 5.5 percent in November amid talk of extending the OPEC-led deal to cut global supply, and so far in 2017 since the agreement kicked in, have averaged over $50 a barrel, easily topping last year’s $43.47 average.

This week, futures climbed over $58 a barrel, near their highest since June 2015.

Looking ahead, futures were trading near $57 for calendar 2018 and $54 for calendar 2019.

In anticipation of higher prices than in 2016, exploration and production (E&P) companies increased their spending on U.S. drilling and completions in 2017 by about 53 percent over 2016, according to U.S. financial services firm Cowen & Co.

In addition, Cowen said 14 of the 64 E&Ps they track have already provided capital expenditure guidance for 2018 indicating a 9 percent increase in planned spending over 2017.

Cowen, which has its own U.S. rig count, said it expects a gradual decline in rigs in the fourth quarter of 2017 and in


There were 929 oil and natural gas rigs active on Dec. 1. The average number of rigs in service so far in 2017 was 872. That compares with 509 in 2016 and 978 in 2015. Most rigs produce both oil and gas.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Marguerita Choy