Natural gas drilling continued to decline in the fourth quarter, despite an uptick in exploratory gas drilling for the period, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said in a report on well completions for the quarter.

“In the year-to-date comparison, gas well completions have decreased 26%” to 9,752 wells in 2012 from 13,128 wells in 2011, according to the institute, which represents major oil and gas producers.

At the same time, oil well drilling rose in the fourth quarter, with exploratory and development oil wells showing a 15% and 16% increase from 2011’s fourth quarter figures, respectively, API said.

“The oil and natural gas industry expanded oil drilling in 2012, thanks in large part to access on private and state lands,” said Hazem Arafa, director of API’s statistics department.

A year-to-date comparison of oil wells drilled yields a 25% increase in total well completions between 2011 and 2012 (26,213 to 32,652), according to API.

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