U.S. oil and natural gas drilling estimates for the first-quarter of the year hit a 21-year high, with gas activity leading the way, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said in its quarterly well completion report.

The report, which was released Thursday, estimated that a total of 11,771 oil and natural gas wells and dry holes were completed during the first three months, up one percent from the year-ago period.

The oil and gas producer group said natural gas continued to be the primary target for domestic drilling, accounting for 60% of all first-quarter drilling activity. It noted that a record high of 7,085 gas wells were completed during the quarter.

API said the resurgence in oil well completions continued in the first quarter. An estimated 3,674 oil wells were completed during the three-month period, second only to the first quarter of last year, according to the group.

But it noted that estimated exploratory completions, which accounted for less than 6% of total estimated completions, fell 21% in the first quarter compared to the same period a year ago.

The API reported total estimated footage drilled was 65,747,000 in the first quarter, down 3% from the first quarter of 2006. Still, it said it was the second highest first-quarter estimated footage drilled in two decades.

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