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One Rig Comes Back to Barnett Shale as Analyst Anticipates Declining Supply

One rig returned to the Barnett Shale in the latest tally of active rigs compiled by Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI). Meanwhile, analysts at Jefferies are looking for a natural gas supply response.

How many drilling rigs are still running in the Barnett Shale? The exact number depends upon whom you ask, but the simplest answer is available from anyone: far fewer than there used to be. As of Friday, there were six, up from five the previous week and four the previous year -- but down from 81 five years ago.

RigData, which reports rig counts as well as numerous other industry data points, recently said the Barnett Shale rig count had fallen to zero, this while BHI was reporting five actives.

Asked about the difference in Barnett tallies, RigData spokesman Greg Tsichlis reaffirmed "the big goose egg" for the Barnett and suggested a difference in rig count methodology and/or rig categorization could account for the difference from the BHI count.

BHI's Emil Ferenz, market intelligence resource manager, said a number of things could account for differences between the BHI count and RigData's. One of the most likely is a difference in the roster of counties that comprise what each considers to be at least some of the Barnett.

"...[T]here is no 'official' organization that defines what counties are included in which basins," Ferenz said. "Baker Hughes' county/basin alignments were established some time ago and have not changed to avoid confusion. If we did, it would make it difficult to explain increases and decreases in the rig count from week to week. The reader would not know whether the changes were due to a change in drilling activity or a change in counties included in a basin."

Other factors that can account for differences among rig counts include the timing of the counts, how an "active" rig is defined, and how cooperative operators are in providing data.

"The people that are selling bits to these rigs, they're the ones that actually do the counting on a week-to-week basis, and they're recording all the activity, especially during the drilling operation of what their rig is doing...how deep it's going," Ferenz said. "That information is collected in another database that we have. And that database is then synced with our rig count system on a two-hour basis, so you're constantly picking up information in the U.S.

"My suggestion, when I get these differences one to the other: pick a source and use that in looking for trends on anything else."

And in the case of the rig count in general, the trend has been decidedly down, as everyone knows.

In the BHI count released Friday (April 29), the tally of U.S. land rigs fell 10 to 391. One offshore rig left play for a net U.S. decline of 11 rigs. Three rigs (two oil and one gas) departed service in Canada, leaving 37 and making for a net North America decline of 14 units, with 457 rigs remaining.

In the United States, 11 oil rigs left, joined by one gas rig and offset by the return of one "miscellaneous" unit. Among the departed were two directionals, eight horizontals and one vertical unit.

Declines across plays were spread out and modest. The Barnett Shale was the only play to gain a rig, adding one unit to return to six actives, which was up two from the four rigs running one year ago, at least according to BHI.

The consequence of all those fallen rigs is coming, Jefferies analyst Jonathan Wolff and colleagues said in a note Tuesday.

"U.S. natural gas production has increased by 20+ Bcf/d over the past decade, with growth led by newfound economic development of shale gas (Marcellus, Haynesville, Fayetteville, Barnett) and impacted by associated gas from the growing liquids shale (Bakken, Eagle Ford, Permian, DJ Basin)," Jefferies said. "Overall U.S. production has flattened over the past 18 months due to falling investment on weaker prices and a lack of incremental pipeline capacity. We see supply declines surfacing this year just as demand growth for cheap natural gas energy truly sets in…

"March volumes decreased by about 1 Bcf/d (both y/y and sequentially), with associated gas volumes now down by 1.7 Bcf/d from the peak and continued declines across legacy basins. Marcellus (PA) volumes decreased by about 375 MMcf/d from the prior-month all-time high, likely due to wells that were again shut in once the February cold passed. We believe the temporary year-end [2015 production] increase masked accelerating declines in other regions, which will drive gas supply lower throughout the remainder of 2016."

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