U.S. drillers add oil and gas rigs for fourth time in five weeks - Baker Hughes

A pulling rig is erected at an oil well in the middle of a cotton field to swab the well in Seminole, TX, U.S. September 19, 2019. Picture taken September 19, 2019. REUTERS/Adria Malcolm

Oct 14 (Reuters) - U.S. energy firms this week added oil and natural gas rigs for the fourth time in five weeks as production growth slows despite relatively high oil prices.

The oil and gas rig count, an early indicator of future output, rose seven to 769 in the week to Oct. 14, returning to its highest since March 2020 after slipping for the past couple of months, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said in its closely followed report on Friday. , ,

U.S. oil rigs rose eight to 610 this week, their highest since March 2020, while gas rigs fell one to 157, their lowest since July.

Data provider Enverus, which publishes its own rig count data, said drillers added 15 rigs in the week to Oct. 12, boosting the count to 897, its highest in nearly three years.

U.S. oil demand and production is expected to grow more slowly than previously forecast for the remainder of this year and in 2023, the Energy Department forecast on Wednesday.

Even as the rig count increased during most months over the past two years, weekly increases have been in the single digits for months and oil production remains below record levels seen before the pandemic as many companies focus more on returning money to investors and paying down debt rather than boosting output.

The combination of soaring prices and continued fiscal restraint is rapidly improving balance sheets across an industry known for debt-fueled drilling binges, analysts at energy consulting firm EBW Analytics said this week.

EBW pointed to an Oct. 10 report by credit rating firm Moody's that showed North American oil and gas producers cut debt by $26 billion over the past three years.

EBW also pointed to a report from management consulting company Deloitte in August that said if prices stay strong and producers remain committed to capital discipline U.S. shale companies could become debt-free in 2024. read more

Reporting by Scott DiSavino Editing by Marguerita Choy

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Covers the North American power and natural gas markets.